Life as seen by Jason A. Rice. China based photographer.

Posts Tagged ‘China’

Century Park Flowers, Shanghai

Nice collection of miniature sunflowers (actually have no idea what they are called) with apartments in the background.

Nice collection of miniature sunflowers (actually have no idea what they are called) with apartments in the background.

Here are a couple of quick shots of flowers during a recent walk and bike ride around Century Park in Shanghai.  I’ve always avoided the park on the weekends but during the week the park is very empty.  The pigeon house is unique and worth checking out.  You know you are in the right area when you begin to hear this massive warbling.  This area proves a third use for umbrellas in China: rain, sun, and now bird bombs. The 10 RMB entry fee is kinda ridiculous and bike rentals are way overpriced but the overall atmosphere of the place makes is good for portrait photos and picnics.  Soon you will forget all about the entry fee.

Another nice little collection of flowers in Century Park.  Good location for portrait shots.

Another nice little collection of flowers in Century Park. Good location for portrait shots.

You get the idea now, flowers with buildings in the background.  There are a few nice heavily wooded places where you can escape the buildings.  Every time I have been here there are always at least a couple of fashion shoots in the park.

You get the idea now, flowers with buildings in the background. There are a few nice heavily wooded places where you can escape the buildings. Every time I have been here there are always at least a couple of fashion shoots in the park.


Shanghai Bus Tour (Time Lapse)

Approaching the Bund area along the Huangpu River is Shanghai.  The Pearl TV Tower is off in the distance.

Approaching the Bund area along the Huangpu River is Shanghai. The Pearl TV Tower is off in the distance.

In this video we travel around the Puxi side of China.  The tour begins at Peoples Square facing the Nanjing Walking Street and makes a quick loop around the square before heading out towards the Huangpu River where we catch a glimpse of the Pearl TV Tower.  After a daring u-turn we travel down the extent of the Bund before we take another u-turn and travel through Old Town near the Yu Gardens.  Finally we head back towards People’s Square through Xintiandi.

I have been working on a larger project recently involving time-lapse photography.  There is still a lot of shooting and work to be done but here is a little teaser.  Let me know what you think.

YouTube version above.

Youku version below.


MIDI Festival

Yound and not-so-old alike came out to enjoy some tunes at the MIDI Music Festival.

Young and not-so-old alike came out to enjoy some tunes at the MIDI Music Festival.

Last weekend brought to town the first major outdoor summer music festivals here in Shanghai.  The MIDI Music Festival took place in the southeast corner of Century Park, which provided great access to us metro riders.  Was not able to make it over on Saturday as my day was booked solid with baseball practice and a playoff basketball game but was able to sneak over for the afternoon and evening sets on Sunday.  The festival included two stages; a smaller electronic stage close to a sponsor organization interaction area and a main rock stage settled in front of a Tiger Beer VIP Pavilion and Jägermeister inflatable party house.  As one walked between the two stages there was a smattering of folks hawking goods from small gas masks (in line with the festivals PM 2.5 air quality awareness program) to eye shades to personal festival sized shade tents.  The festival grounds were very easy to navigate and a perfect fit for the crowd size.  It was easy to scope out an area and find a spot among the picnicers.

Due to the late start on the day I only saw two Chinese bands (Brain Failure and Hao Yun), UK’s Little Fish, and a festival French outfit named La Souris Deglingue.  Overall the music was not the best but the weather and festival atmosphere was perfect for a recovering live music fiend living in China.

Here are a few snaps from the day.

Nice crowd view on the projector behind Hao Yun.

Nice crowd view on the projector behind Hao Yun.

Rock fingers abound at the MIDI.

Rock fingers abound at the MIDI.

Little Fish at the MIDI.

Little Fish at the MIDI.

Little Fish in front of the MIDI crowd.

Little Fish in front of the MIDI crowd.

A dog packpack enjoys piggyback ride from a girl enjoying a piggyback ride during the Hao Yun set.

A dog backpack enjoys piggyback ride from a girl enjoying a piggyback ride during the Hao Yun set.


The Many Faces of Rock Tiger (Korean Rockabilly)

Rock Tigers Korean Rockabilly tag the stage in Shanghai.  This would have been a sweet picture if I didn't shake it a little.  But it still has enough energy to post.  (reminder, get a monopod)

Rock Tigers Korean Rockabilly tag the stage in Shanghai. This would have been a sweet picture if I didn't shake it a little. But it still has enough energy to post. (reminder, get a monopod)

Something of great interest to me is how cultures/people experience and interpret items from a much different place.  Take for instance sport, in Japan the live baseball game is basically the same as in the United States, but the trained eye will see minor nuances in the ceremony around the action on the field.  It is within these slight changes that a person can actually undergo a whole new experience from something they thought so familiar.   The same is true for music.  A sound or style can be created in a far off land, yet when it reaches new populations this new culture will interpret it with a new filter.  This is where something interesting happens and for those willing and interested to partake the freshness of the experience is extant.

This weekend Rock Tiger served up some delicious Rockabilly music with a dash of Korean energy and flare to satiate a hungry Shanghai crowd.

What is a Rock Tiger you say?  Well let me show you.

Roy firing up the bass and the mic alike.

Roy firing up the bass and the mic alike.

Eddie Tarantula and his hair entertain on guitar.

Eddie Tarantula and his hair entertain on guitar.

Tiger pounds the crowd with all sorts of sounds.

Tiger pounds the crowd with all sorts of sounds.

Velvet Geena soars towards Rockabilly Heaven.

Velvet Geena commences take-off.

Velvet Geena soars towards Rockabilly Heaven.

Velvet Geena soars towards Rockabilly Heaven.

This Korean rockin rocket must be from the south.

This Korean rockin rocket must be from the south.

.....

.....

Good times!

... yes, 감사합니다.


Shanghai Spring

Sakura in Zhongshan Park, Shanghai.

Sakura in Zhongshan Park, Shanghai.

Being my first year in Shanghai I am not too sure of the seasons but what I gather is spring is April/May, monsoon season is May/June, a terribly hot summer follows during July/August and a pleasant fall in September/October.  More evidence of a short spring is that all the music festivals are crammed into two - three weekends here at the end of April.  The inclusion of experiencing a Chinese music festival is totally filling up my weekend schedule between baseball practice, basketball (our team made the playoffs), general walking around, walking backward (a popular exercise with China’s elderly), metro rides, and fried dumpling eating.  In spite of all the ballyhoo I was able to walk about and snap some photos of the Shanghai Spring.  Enjoy.

What sakura collection would be complete without some cosplay.  Zhongshan Park.

What sakura collection would be complete without some cosplay? Zhongshan Park, Shanghai.

Out comes the sun and dries up all the laundry.  With a population the size of Shanghai and the number of environmental/economical conservationalists you are going to find laundry all over the place.

Out comes the sun and dries up all the laundry. With a population the size of Shanghai and the number of environmental/economical conservationists you are going to find laundry all over the place.

Such few laundry on such a nice day is uncommon in these parts.

Such few laundry on such a nice day is uncommon in these parts.

Argueably Chinas favorite sports, basketball and wearing jeans, is a fine way to spend a spring day.

Arguably China's favorite sport, basketball while wearing jeans, is a fine way to spend a spring day.

More of the same

More of the same.

Another Chinese pasttime, birding.

Another Chinese past-time, birding.

Probably the worlds largest producers and user of kites are the Chinese.  Go to any park on the weekend and the sun is eclipsed by their numbers.

Probably the world's largest producer and user of kites are the Chinese. Go to any park on the weekend and the sun is basically eclipsed by their numbers.


Yellow Crane Tower and First Bridge

Wuhan's Yellow Crane tower roof fish with First Bridge in the distance.

Wuhan's Yellow Crane tower roof fish with First Bridge in the distance.

I was going through some older photos and realized I had yet to post any photos from the top tourist destination in Wuhan, the Yellow Crane tower.  During one of my last weekends in Wuhan I visited the refurbed grand tower which sits upon Snake “Mountain”.  The tower is a tourist spot, with a bunch of little kitch shops inside selling miniature replicas of the tower and Mr. Miagi rhythm drums, but overall not a bad way to spend a nice afternoon.

Wuhans infamous Yellow Crane Tower.  If there is one iconic symbol of Wuhan it is this tower.

Wuhan's infamous Yellow Crane Tower. If there is one iconic symbol of Wuhan it is this tower.

Looking East down the back of Snake Mountain from the top floor of the Yellow Crane Tower.

Looking East down the back of Snake Mountain from the top floor of the Yellow Crane Tower.

Escaping the heat in Wuhan is not an easy task but the bell show in the belly of the Yellow Crane Tower is a nice respite.

Escaping the heat in Wuhan is not an easy task but the bell show in the belly of the Yellow Crane Tower is a nice respite.

Between the Yellow Crane Tower and the Yangtze River is the Hu Bu Xiang snack street.  Which I have posted about here.  Pop out the other end of Hu Bu Xiang and you will find yourself at the base of the First Bridge and the great Yangtze River.  Following are some images of this colossal structure designed by the Soviet Union.

Sepia toned image of the Wuhan Yangtze First Bridge.

Sepia toned image of the Wuhan Yangtze First Bridge.

First Bridge Pano.

First Bridge Pano.


Shanghai Baseball Practice ECNU

Japanese Softball team takes batting practice at ECNU.

Japanese Softball team takes batting practice at ECNU.

With spring comes baseball, even in Shanghai.  The sports field at East China Normal University (ECNU) is packed with activities and teams during the weekend.  On a typical Sunday the field holds an American Football team practice, a cricket game, a Taiwanese Baseball Club practice, the ECNU Baseball Club practice and a Shanghai Baseball Club.  Couple this with the nearby basketball courts and the random soccer play and there are balls flying around the complex.  Here is a little sneak peak at some of the action.  Would have liked to take more snaps but was busy pitching for one side of the intrasquad game.  More to come in the following months.

Shagging BP with the Japanese softball club.

Shagging BP with the Japanese softball club.

Pitching sequence during an intrasquad baseball game.

Pitching sequence during an intrasquad baseball game.

Intrasquad game at ECNU.

Intrasquad game at ECNU.


Wuhan Hu Bu Xiang Snack Street

Hu Bu Xiang ladies of the night.

Hu Bu Xiang ladies of the night.

You can say a lot of negative things about Wuhan’s pollution, traffic congestion, and weather but when it comes to street snack food it ranks up there with the best. The crown jewel of the Wuhan street snack food has to be at Hu Bu Xiang Snack Street.  This little street, the length of half a standard block and the width of two people at times, is all part of the tourist experience of Wuhan and will probably be featured in any travel writing about the city.  I figure Wuhan only offers about one, maybe two days worth of standard tourist excitement and this is a perennial destination.  Because of its central location, transportation options, proximity to the Three Gorges area and lack of most things interesting, Wuhan is basically a pit-stop for most travelers.  If Anthony Bordain was to film an episode of Layover here he would basically spend his first morning by walking up to view Yellow Crane Tower from the street (no real reason to pay admission and go inside) so the video crew could grab their b-roll, walk a few meters to the famous Hu Bu Xiang snack street for an assortment of goodies, spend the day at Wuhan University or East Lake (China’s largest urban lake), and take in a music show at Vox followed by more street food at a night market and more drinks at ex-pat / local hangout Wuhan Prison.  You could consume the next 24-hours basically by sleeping in and trying to take a bus from one side of the city to the other, which I’ve been told could take upwards of six hours.

Let’s not get hung up on the faults of Wuhan, and instead partake in the greasy goodness it has to offer. Anybody will tell you Wuhan is known for its breakfast street food, and in my opinion Hu Bu Xiang is the epicenter of the magic.  Yes there are plenty of fantastic noodle and re-gan mian (hot dry noodle) shops all over town.  But, even if locals say Hu Bu is not what it used to be, there is no better collection of street food energy in Wuhan than this little strip just east of the Yangtze River.  They say it’s breakfast food but go there anytime during the day and you will not be disappointed.

Some snaps from my last visit.

So good the workers cannot pass up a taste.

So good the workers cannot pass up a taste.

Patrons near the entrance of the street.

Patrons near the entrance of the street.

One of the many food venders along Hu Bu Xiang.

One of the many food venders along Hu Bu Xiang.

Wuhan First Bridge at night from Wuchang.  Just a short walk from Hu Bu Xiang.

Wuhan First Bridge at night from Wuchang. Just a short walk from Hu Bu Xiang.


Splendid China - Folk Village (Shenzhen)

Illuminated bridge at twilight in the China Folk Culture Village.

Illuminated bridge at twilight in the China Folk Culture Village.

Spent some time in Shenzhen over the Chinese New Year and was intrigued about these amusement parks featuring miniatures from all over the world.  There are two major parks featuring these minis: Windows of the World showcasing famous icons from around the globe and Splendid Village highlighting Chinese landmarks.  The original plan was to see Windows of the World but upon arrival I was more interested in China showing China than randoms from all over.  And to see both is not too difficult, there is a monorail joining the two, plus other touristy places I declines to visit.

Splendid Village is basically split into two areas: on the left are the minis and adjacent is China Folk Culture Village.  The Folk Village is a maze of domiciles and local living environments reproduced to reflect the many ethnic groups of China.  Most of the place was a ghost town, especially the Folk Village, as everyone was preparing for the Chinese New Year the following day.  The lack of people makes it easier to take the photos I wanted and is one of the reasons I like to visit Chinese Tourist attractions over the Chinese New Year.  Below are some snaps from the visit.

For more photos visit here.

Map of Splendid Village and China Folk Village

Map of Splendid Village and China Folk Village

Replica of a Beijing courtyard house in the China Folk Village.

Replica of a Beijing courtyard house in the China Folk Village.

Miniature gates.

Miniature gates.

Miniature Great Wall.

Miniature Great Wall.

Forbidden City bridges.

Forbidden City bridges.

A mini man minus his mini man.

A mini man minus his mini man.

New Years dragon display near the entrance of Splendid China.

New Year's dragon display near the entrance of Splendid China.


Chickity China the Chinese Chicken Chuck Wagon

I have been busy in China taking care of many things, some of which come fully feathered.  Check out my latest companions at the salad bar.  These guys were extremely suspicious of the clicking camera and would not go near the roughage with the camera nearby.  So I tried a few different locations until finally they began to hammer away at the greens.  Luckily this timed out perfectly with the Muppets audio.

This is my first real attempt at time lapse but I hope to do more in the near future.  Just looking for those perfect scenes… here in China they should not be hard to find.

Prize to those who can think of the best name for these chickens.

Below is the Youku version for all those in China without access to YouTube.


Wuhan Institute of Physical Education

WIPE main entrance guardian.

WIPE main entrance guardian.

This time last year I was spending my time at the Wuhan Institute of Physical Education.  The fairly large university (7,000+ students) located in the capitol city of Hubei Province, China is dedicated to sports training and sports education.  Students can major in basketball, ping-pong, dance, journalism, business, English and many other fields.  The majority of the students study sports which makes for a pocket of larger sized Chinese.  I can walk around Wuhan and be noticeably taller than most people, but here on campus I comfortably fit in with the sizable student body.  The school is also host to China’s national rowing team and some young gymnasts in training.  Let me tell you, these guys are all about quantity when it comes to training.  The crew team is up with the sun and trains all day.  Even the “universities basketball team” (which I cannot really figure out because they never play other teams, only inter-squad) runs and scrimmages all day.  From my viewpoint they could really conduct a more effective and efficient practice, but I understand this is the way they like to do it China.  In all sports in all levels, the theory is to get better you just train harder, not necessarily smarter.  Obviously it has produced some good results in international competition (the school has training many Olympic gold metal winner, including Yang Wei) but it seems there are better ways.  It was interesting to see how vastly different their basketball practices are compared to what I remember.  In China the team practices together instead of doing individual drills.  Most drills just seem to be a type of war of attrition, running up and down the court until you are completely exhausted.  General wisdom would say this actually produces and practices poor technique, as the athletes tire,  but they seem to just bulldog through it.

Anyway, I had fun playing basketball with the students and by the end of my time there I was getting my game senses back and was able to shoot a little better (it had probably been about eight years since I played a game before coming to China) and they taught me a fair amount of Chinese profanities.   At the beginning of summer I filmed a walking tour of campus, which I will attach below.  The video is way too long for one download so I cut them into three segments.  I know the camera is really shaky and not the best quality, but it might be interesting to some of you to see the campus of a Chinese sports university.  It has only been a few months since this video was shot, but by the time you view it the campus will have changed a lot.  That is the way things are in Chinese cities nowadays.  Cranes are up everywhere and the old cities are being erased while a new image is being penciled in its place.

Can you see these videos?  Leave me a comment, I think there might be a problem.

Here is the Youku version (not as high resolution) because YouTube does not like my music choice and has disabled the audio.

HERE is a link to Part 2 of 3 Youku version for all you Chinese viewers without access to Youtube.

HERE is a link to Part 3 of 3 Youku version for all you Chinese viewers without access to Youtube.

And some photos.

The morning view from the pedestrian bridge just outside the west gate of Wuhan Institute of Physical Education.

The morning view from the pedestrian bridge just outside the west gate of Wuhan Institute of Physical Education.

Cranes building a new stadium to host the national Mind Games (chess and such).  Hope that the students will actually be able to use it and play basketball.  The old courts are generally over crowded and not in the best of condition.

Cranes building a new stadium to host the national Mind Games (chess and such). Hope that the students will actually be able to use it and play basketball. The old courts are generally over crowded and not in the best of condition.

The outside portion of the basketball courts on campus (as referenced in the above caption).  When school is in session the courts are always jammed, unless it is shower/dinner time (yep, students need to show betwen 4-7).  The inside, let me just say covered, courts are in a little better shape but not much.  What I like about basketball in China is that students do not care how cold it is they will come a play in jeans and sweats when the snow is falling outside and you can see your breathe inside.

The outside portion of the basketball courts on campus (as referenced in the above caption). When school is in session the courts are always jammed, unless it is shower/dinner time (yep, students need to show betwen 4-7). The "inside", let me just say covered, courts are in a little better shape but not much. What I like about basketball in China is that students do not care how cold it is they will come a play in jeans and sweats when the snow is falling outside and you can see your breathe inside.

The combat house at WIPE.  Here they practice everything from boxing to dragon dancing.  Some say the archetecture is to resemble the shape of a fist, I dont see it.

The combat house at WIPE. Here they practice everything from boxing to dragon dancing. Some say the architecture is to resemble the shape of a fist, I don't see it.

Ask any student or faculty to give you a list of three things to know about WIPE and I guarantee they tell you Yang Wei trained here.  So to momortalize him they put him up on the WIPE Wall of Fame.

Ask any student or faculty to give you a list of three things to know about WIPE and I guarantee they tell you Yang Wei trained here. So to memorialize him they put him up on the WIPE Wall of Fame.

Centrally located and even glowing at night, the administration building.

Centrally located and even glowing at night, the administration building.


Beijing - Forbidden City

One of the many courtyards in the Forbidden City.  I imagine harse weather and thousands of tourists have caused the stones to chip away.  Many of them have been replaced, creating a walkway for strollers and wheelchairs.

One of the many courtyards in the Forbidden City. I imagine harsh weather and thousands of tourists have caused the stones to chip away. Many of them have been replaced, creating a walkway for strollers and wheelchairs. The remaining stones can be ankle breakers if you are not careful, or if you have a camera to your face.

Stop number one on most tourist trips to Beijing… the Forbidden City.  This UNESCO World Heritage Site is located almost smack-dab in the middle of the Middle Kingdom’s capitol city.  Usually the place is crawling with tourists but during the Spring Festival holiday most locals, and Chinese tourists, return home.  This creates a relatively good nice opportunity to take in some of the sites without the swarms of tourists who flock here on most weekends.

Give yourself a few hours to walk around the grounds, the place is massive.  If you are toting a camera I suggest an additional hour.  And if you have the extra time stay longer to explore the nooks and crannies.  Trust me, it will be worth it.

One of the many iconic doors in the Forbidden City.  You see replicas of these doors throughout China.  And to see them in real life is very impressive.  I wish I had taken the time to snap more photos.

One of the many iconic doors in the Forbidden City. You see replicas of these doors throughout China. And to see them in real life is very impressive. I wish I had taken the time to snap more photos.

Maybe Ive said this in a previous post... I find the decorative roof tiles really fascinating.  Its difficult to get a good look at the roofs in the Forbidden City but that does not make them any less impressive.

Maybe I've said this in a previous post... I find the decorative roof tiles really fascinating. It's difficult to get a good look at the roofs in the Forbidden City but that does not make them any less impressive.

Nooks and crannies... check em out.

Nooks and crannies... check 'em out.


Beijing - Tiananmen Square

The entrance to the Forbidden Palace lit up at night.

The entrance to the Forbidden Palace lit up at night.

It’s been a long time since my last post.  Too long.  Too busy.

Even now I only have a little time to post some photos from the Spring Festival trip to Beijing.  Here are some of my favorites from Tiananmen Square.  Over the following week(s) I will post some more photos from Beijing.  Do enjoy!

Forbidden Palace Entrance at night, just north of Tiananmen Square.

Forbidden Palace Entrance at night, just north of Tiananmen Square.

Here is the walking (shopping and eating) street just south of Tiananmen Square.  It took a while to wait for a clear shot, as people were all over this place.

Here is the walking (shopping and eating) street just south of Tiananmen Square. It took a while to wait for a clear shot, as people were all over this place.

A tower monument and governmental building at Tiananmen Square.  During the night tourists are not allowed onto the square so all pictures were taken from across the road.

A tower monument and governmental building at Tiananmen Square. During the night tourists are not allowed onto the square so all pictures were taken from across the road.

Your typical tourist shot of the Forbidden City entrance from Tiananmen Square.  Luckily the area was not very crowed as Beijing citizens and Chinese tourists were few due to the Spring Festival.

Your typical tourist shot of the Forbidden City entrance from Tiananmen Square. Luckily the area was not very crowed as Beijing citizens and Chinese tourists were few due to the Spring Festival.


Video - Surprise Wuhan Snow

This week we had a surprise snow here in Wuhan.  In my opinion the winter has been relatively mild.  I say that now, but I did have a minor case of frostbite on my thumb through December and January.  This sort of thing is pretty common here because it does get rather cold (many days below freezing) and most building do not have insulation nor good heating, my apartment being one of those places.  So I developed a little red bump below the knuckle which quickly grew to cover most of my thumb.  The healing process begins when it begins to itch like crazy.  My entire thumb began to itch and and peel while in Harbin and Beijing.  Sure Harbin and Beijing are much colder outside.  But inside most places have radiators and stay quite snug.  I could wear only jeans and a shirt inside and be totally fine.  In Wuhan I creep around the house in thick quilted pajamas with a Chanel and metal chain design.  They are pretty ghetto and pretty awesome, plus they keep me super warm and make me feel like one of the locals.  People have told me they call this the mahjong suit because old men wear this all night while playing mahjong with the neighbors.  Me… I call it my everyday suit.  Too bad it did not come with a thumb mitt to protect my big digit.  This reminds me (sorry about the tangent), yesterday I was walking around and this older man was wearing ear mittens.  Not ear muffs, ear mittens.  They only covered his ears.  At first I thought it could have been some cosplay thing.  But they guy was too old and conservatively dress so I dismissed the idea.  But they did look like some kind of costume bear ears or something he grabbed from his teenage daughter.

I digress.  Back to the reason for the post.  I just wanted you to see a little snow here in Wuhan.  It will probably be our last for the season as the temperatures are starting to creep upward.  So here you go…


Video - Harbin Ice and Snow World Slide

Here is a video from the Harbin (China) Ice and Snow World.  The park is quite amazing.  All structures are made completely of ice from the Songhua River in Harbin.  The crowds come at night when they turn on the lights.  Some buildings resemble famous Chinese sites, while others are fairly random.  This year they had a windmill, a whale, and plenty of slides.  There is even a zip line and bungee ride.  All free with paid admission.

Keep watching and you can ride down the slide with me.

All apologies for the music choice.  It’s not my personal choice but fitting because the park had this song on repeat for most of the night.  It was ingrained into my memory of this place.

Below is the Youku version for fans in China.


Harbin Ice and Snow World

Harbin Ice Castles

Harbin Ice Castles

Have you ever tried to buy a train ticket out of China’s capitol city during Spring Festival?  I have.

Have you ever been on a bus for more than 12 hours?  I have.

Have you ever been so cold that your nose started bleeding?  I have.

Why do I ask these questions?  Because they set the groundwork for my trip to Harbin.

My goal was to get to Harbin for their much lauded Ice and Snow sculptures/festivals/worlds and what not.  And while in the neighborhood, I could stop by Beijing during the Chinese New Year.  See… flying from Wuhan to Harbin was going to be expensive… something like $450 USD and did not provide the flexibility of stopping in Beijing on the way up to and back from Harbin.  Flying from Wuhan to Beijing is super cheap… something like $70 USD each way.  So I can get to Beijing no problem.  But what about Harbin?

Plane tickets were too much out of the capital.  So I was willing to resort to the standard Chinese mode of New Year transportation, the train. We’ve all seen images of people herded into train platforms and cars on the news in the west.  We’ve seen people sitting on luggage and climbing in and out of windows to beat the long queues for the doors.  Luckily, or not, I avoided this whole scene.  No I did not buy a first class train ticket (SOLD OUT), no I did not buy a ticket for a hard or soft sleeper (SOLD OUT), no I did not buy a standing room only ticket (which seems to never sell out - these are the scenes you see of people jammed onto trains like toes into a shoe two sizes too small - I was actually too scared to gamble with the standing room only ticket for a nine hour train ride).  Of course you don’t have to “stand” with the standing ticket, you can buy one of these little folding chairs for sale all around the station for about a buck.  The legs look to be made from paint stirs and seat of three thin colorful seat belt straps.  So, somewhat reluctantly, I had to walk away from the “standing” ticket and my Chinese New Year train experience.  And walk right into my Chinese New Year bus experience.

You might be thinking the bus station is a seedy place, and the outside environs and the people kinda were.  But once inside it was actually fairly well ordered and clean (by Chinese transportation standards) and even better than the train station.  I even saw my first Subway sandwich shop in the bus station and treated myself to a deli club.  You see… “standing” train tickets are super cheap.  This attracts the derelicts of derelicts.  But bus tickets around the New Year were selling for the same price as air tickets.  Sure the flight takes two hours, the train nine and the bus fourteen.  But an overnight train or bus can save a night’s hotel cost.  And when pinching pennies as I was it mattered.  So I broke it down like this: the plane is the expensive quick option (tickets were super high and a hotel would be required on the other end), “standing” train tickets were cheap with the potential to be extremely uncomfortable for nine hours, the bus was moderately priced (saving the expense of a hotel night) and moderately comfortable (you had a seat assignment but did have the potential of smokers on board) and moderately safe (well maybe not… this is basically Siberian-like roads in a bus for fourteen hours).  Ultimately I was at the bus station, they had tickets available and I wanted to get to Harbin as soon as possible.  I was on a bus leaving Beijing at four o’clock.  Or at least that is what I thought.

Actually the four o’clock bus boards at four an just sits outside for about an hour before it actually leaves.  And remember those seat assignments?  Total bullocks.  Seating was first come first serve.  AKA don’t get stuck in the back row.  Not sure why we are waiting so long.  Bus reps come on the bus and count and check our tickets a few time.  Passengers get antsy and try to get off to use the rest room.  I eat my Subway sandwich.  So the four o’clock bus leaves at five (just in time for Beijing rush hour, though it was not as hellish as advertised).  At this point the sun has set and there is no scenery and everyone has decided not to use their reading lights (I think Chinese people fear reading while in anything moving or maybe just reading itself) and we sit in total darkness for the first two hours.

As we reach the outskirts of town the bus stops for gas and everybody gets off for the restroom, food and smokes (of the forty mean on the bus it seems like fifty of them smoke - yes I know the math and logic is off, it’s all for effect).  All aboard and we are rolling back down the highway.  This time we have some entertainment.  No not just the guys on the bus eating boiled eggs and drinking baijiu, but the bus entertainment system has some to life and is showing a 1980s Hong Kong comedy about gambling and ghosts.  From this I learn that Chinese zombies like to jump and bounce instead of walk and you can wear a talisman (or piece of paper with some characters written on it) hanging down from your forehead to keep away evil spirits.  The film had some good laughs and was well received by the  passengers.  Not so well received were the next two entertainment choices.

First, they tried to show the same movie again.  The people moaned and complained.  Before a protest was organized the entertainment box went silent.  Then after an hour or so it sparked back to life with a new film.  This time the choice was a French thriller about mice taking over the Paris after city employees went on strike and refused to clean away the garbage.  The movie began with little in the way of conversation, we just followed a mouse around the city from his viewpoint.  The bus seemed to be slightly entertained, especially during the gratuitous girls’ locker room shower scene.  The story was easy enough to follow in the beginning but soon the plot needed to advance and the actors began to speak.  Speak in French they did, with English subtitles only.  The movie tried to advance the plot even further by bringing in some scientific explanation to situation.  This the passengers could not take any longer.  The bus grew restless and lost total interest in the movie.  I, an advanced English reader compared to others around me, was completely uninterested in the film after the locker scene.  So I could imagine the others discouragement.  By the time I returned to the bus at the next gas/smoke stop the movie was turned off and never to be heard from again.  I thought maybe they would try the gambling ghost comedy again but they thought better of it.  The rest of the night would be uneventful with an occasional passenger filling the enclosed area with his smoking habit and the temperature swinging from swamp ass hot to first degree frost bite growing on my thumb.

By six in the morning the bus was illuminated in a cold winter morning blue.  We pulled the curtains open but the windows where covered in a layer of ice a few millimeters thick.  Makeshift ice scrappers made from bottle tops and transportation cards were soon scratching at the windows to make peepholes to see the sun break.

The bus made one more stop to let people stretch their legs and bladders.  But I think it was more of an opportunity for the bus drivers to coordinate a rendezvous point with some van drivers on the other end.  It seems the lucky spot was somewhere not exactly in Harbin and not exactly in the middle of nowhere, but closer to nowhere than to Harbin.  So when the bus pulled into “Harbin” we stopped on the side of the road, where conveniently there were some small vans offering rides into the city.  The bus population hurried off and split into different directions.  Some went towards the vans others the opposite direction.  I stepped off the bus, looked left and looked right.  And that was about the last thing I saw.

As soon as I jumped off the bus I realized this is the coldest I’ve ever been.  I pulled my scarf up over my mouth and nose to protect my lungs and face  from the icy morning air.  This resulted in a rush of warm air breathing up under my glasses creating a fog which quickly froze.  This resulted in a lack of vision and further disoriented me.  But I had seen enough.  I did not want to go with the tourists into the overpriced vans.  So I went in the direction of those who looked more local heading into the other direction.  There was a large red rolling luggage I could still see through my icy glasses.  The ground was also a solid sheet of ice and packed snow.  Slippery and dangerous under my boots.  I needed my vision back so I removed the scarf from my face and cleared the ice from my glasses.  The decision to follow the “locals” was accurate enough to find a bus stop which headed to town.  Most Harbin buses lack a heater so the windows are covered in a think layer of ice, making it impossible to see outside.  The floor has a wet black oily look to it which makes it tricky to talk and dirty as hell if it gets on your pants.  The same black oily liquid can be found in taxi cabs and under your shoes when they thaw in the hotel room.

As he bus arrived into downtown I knew I had to get warm.  So I stopped at the first sign of something warm and familiar.  KFC (as it often does for foreign travelers) served as the right place.  I went to the washroom to check my vitals and to see if everything was still attached (I had not felt my hands, feet or face for the last hour).  The mirror showed that my nose was not only runny but also bleeding.  Yes, it was so cold that it caused my nose to bleed.  With blood smeared under my nose I looked like Grover Dill from the Christmas Story after Ralphie has beat his face.  I laughed and cleaned up my appearance.  After a hot soy milk drink and a pork tortilla pocket thingy I was ready to explore Harbin.

Over the next couple of days I was able to adjust fairly well to the cold and visited some really cool places: the Harbin Ice and Snow World, a snow sculpture park with pieces as big as football fields, underground Russian restaurants and a Siberian Tiger Park to name a few.

Today I leave you with photos from the main destination motivation for the trip… the Harbin Ice and Snow World.

Harbin Ice and Snow World Entrance

Harbin Ice and Snow World Entrance

Harbin Ice and Snow World Map.

Harbin Ice and Snow World Map.

Dancers try to entertain and warm the crowd.

Dancers try to entertain and warm the crowd.

One of the many slides built into the ice castles.

One of the many slides built into the ice castles.

The ski hill at the backside of the Ice and Snow World.

The ski hill at the backside of the Ice and Snow World.

Harbin Ice and Snow World

Harbin Ice and Snow World


A Walk Up Wuhan’s Moshan “Mountain”

Sculpture near Moshan along a bridge.

Sculpture near Moshan along a bridge.

Not far from my place is a “National Park” called Moshan “Mountain”. Notice the use of parentheses here?  Think of them as indications of my skepticism of their contents.

First, “National Park”. Many signs inside the park are written only with Chinese characters.  Some of these signs have an official looking logo stamped and painted into them.  The logo looks very similar to that of the US National Park system and the English on the Chinese version even states that this is a “National Park of China”.  While very scenic for an urban setting like Wuhan, I’m not sure Moshan has, in my opinion, what it takes to be stamped as an official National Park.  At first I thought it was just another Chinese rouge.  Upon some further investigation I found that it is more a first degree National Park and not in itself a national park.

Moshan is a member of a family of “National Parks” under the East Lake National Park title (aka Wuhan Donghu National Park).  I’m not really sure what constitutes a “National Park” and what does not.  For instance, is the free public swimming area in East Lake a National Park?  How about the Wuhan Institute of Physical Education (yes, WIPE)?  It is located on East Lake.  Not sure?  Neither am I.  While the scenery is nice, it does fall a little short of such a grand title.  But Moshan has the signs to prove it.

The second use of parentheses has to do with the title “Mountain”.  The title Moshan Mountain sounds odd to me for two reasons.  First, the name Moshan (磨山) implies mountain.  Shan () is the pronunciation for mountain.  So Moshan Mountain is like saying Mo Mountain Mountain.  But I have seen it referred to as Moshan Mountain in a few places and I even find myself calling it Moshan Moutain.  My acceptance must be because in China you often hear the same thing repeated twice.  Many nicknames are just the same word repeated (bao bao - means baby and is also the name of my neighbor’s cat) or doubling a word for emphasis is a popular practice (yi dian dian - means only very little of something).  So when I first physically  saw Moshan “Mountain” I thought to myself, “I want to see more mountain mountain”, or Mo Mountain Mountain if your from the city.  See my reasoning?

Let’s get back to the characters making up Moshan (磨山).  See the shan ()?  It kinda looks like a mountain.  But is very very liberally used in China.  It can represent something the size of a pitchers mound to a base camp in Nepal (see how I refrain from using the T word to keep sensors at bay) (see how I spelled sensors with an s to keep sensors at bay) (see how I just want to put in another parenthetical statement).  So if the Chinese are going to liberally use some thing like the word mountain, one of mother nature’s greatest creations, then it’s easy to slap the National Park title on every Tom, Dick and Harry Hill in the land.

The park was was a nice day out and a good way to get away from the hum of the city.  Below are a few more photos from the day.

Some take car, some take bus, some take the lift, some take the stairs.  There are many way to climb Moshan.  And like all elevated parks in China there is always a slide down.

Some take car, some take bus, some take the lift, some take the stairs. There are many way to climb Moshan. And like all elevated parks in China there is always a slide back down.

Sacrifice Alter SE View.

Sacrifice Alter SE View.

Sacrifice Alter NE View.

Sacrifice Alter NE View.

Sacrifice Alter NW View.

Sacrifice Alter NW View.

Sacrifice Alter SW View.

Sacrifice Alter SW View.

The Ying and Yang of the Sacrifice Alter.

The Yin and Yang of the Sacrifice Alter.


Can “Chinese Mothers” Produce Superior Athletes?

tiger-mother

I just published the below article on Sports Business Digest (where I sometimes post)  and because it’s just too fun a topic that I had to post it again.

A recent Wall Street Journal essay by Amy Chua titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” has created quite a stir.   Spinoff articles and editorial reactions have popped up on NPR and other news outlets over the past week.  It seems everyone has an opinion about the topic.  Comments on the article have reached over 6,500 and continue to grow. They range from the annoyed casual reader to the ever present anonymous racist commenteur, the now guilt ridden insecure American mom who didn’t do enough to the agreeing throngs of Chinese bandwagon riders, and a number of finger pointers beget finger pointers.

For those who have not read the article let me break it down: according to Mrs. Chua, raising children the “Chinese way” requires parents to enforce punishingly hard work and expect nothing but the best in return from the child. In other words, if children do not excel at school then there is a problem and parents were not doing their job. Anything short of straight A marks or a gold medal is simply not tolerated. Below is an excerpt from here article.

What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it’s math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun.

As I continued to read the commentary surrounding this topic I began to think that a big difference between the “Chinese Parent” model described by Mrs. Chua and the “Western Parent” is that the West prefers to hire out this role of disciplined enforcer. Home is designed to be safe zone, a retreat from the punishing outside world. For children, discipline, hard work, and perseverance are learned and practiced on the playing fields and at camps and educational institutions. Coaches and teachers have been assigned the role of “Chinese Parent” while the “Western Parent” plays a complicated balancing act of mentor/advisor/supporter/enforcer.

The more I read and thought about it the more I shaped the opinion that it is not so much the technique that produces the result as much as it is the talent and knowledge of the participants. Sure Mrs. Chua has a daughter playing piano at Carnegie Hall. She also probably had access to some pretty valuable resources. Finding a piano teacher around Yale, where she teaches, is probably not too difficult. There are numerous examples of sports families cranking out elite athletes (Manning in football, Andretti in auto sports, Boone in baseball, and Gracie in MMA). What do these “sport families” have in common? They have access to the highest level of sport education which is reinforced with practice and they have witnessed first-hand that success was possible.

As it does so many times, to the point of cliché, sport mirrors real life. How we develop our children is in part the same as developing athletes. Our ability to offer the best opportunity for success is contingent on providing adequate resources to gain the necessary knowledge, reinforce what is learned with focused discipline and work ethic, and belief that success is attainable. Failure to execute in any of these three categories would seriously jeopardize the opportunity.

The current debate is misguided. It is not so much which method produces the better result but more about what we value. In certain circles the ends justify the means. In others the journey is the prize. Some groups are hungry for the opportunities available today and they are not about to miss their chance while others are sitting around fat on their past laurels. Our cultural background plays an important role in shaping these views and as our complex world continues to rub up against each other we will continue to have such debates.

As we rush to find the quickest way to success, whether it’s a seat in the London Symphony Orchestra or qualifying for the Olympic team, I just hope it produces a world that is entertaining to observe. I have a good feeling I won’t be disappointed.


Wuhan University Baseball Club

China taking a swing at baseball.

China taking a swing at baseball.

A few weekends ago I joined my Wuhan University (武汉大学) Baseball Club teammates for a good old fashioned game of ball.  We are actually a baseball club, organized by the students, but the only game in town is softball with some local Japanese auto manufacturer teams.  We gathered at the main gate of Wuhan University around 6:30 AM and traveled to another university (Wuhan has about 35 of these things) out in the burbs for an 8:30 AM start time.  The schedule had us playing two games before lunch and two games following.

The first game was basically a disaster.  Poor defense and a dew covered field had us mounting up a laundry list of errors while their scoreboard looked like a jackpot.  After the first inning we were basically out of the game.  Game Two we tied, I think.  It wasn’t until the third game that I noticed there was a scoreboard.  The first game I just knew we didn’t win.  In Game Three we continued playing solid defense and the bats came alive.  It finished as a decisive win against a team wearing the Japanese Hanshin Tiger’s uniform.  Our final game wound up being a rematch of the first morning game and a great contest… winner taking third place in the five team tournament.  Since that fiasco in the morning, we made a 180 degree improvement and solid pitching and defense held the other team scoreless in the first four innings.  As the intensity grew so did the size of the crowd.  The game on the other end of the field had finished, bringing their players and fans over to ours, and some local soccer teams, who had the field after us, crowded around to watch our game.  Our offense responded to the crowd with a bevy of runs in the forth inning (games where only five innings in length).  We headed into the final inning with a mountain of momentum, a six run cushion and the bottom of their line-up due to the plate.  Recipe for a great finish to the day, right?  Well… their bats started connecting and our defense started to crumble.  They put a few runners on base and our team was shook.  Instead of concentrating on getting one out at a time we began dropping balls and worrying about lead runners.  A few hits later and our moment of restoring pride in Wuhan Univ baseball was washed away.  When the third out was finally made the score read 7-6… bad guys.  Instead of being fueled with anger from the events from the top of the inning our bats looked more like wet noodles.  You could see it happen before it actually did.  Three up… three down and third place was no more.

So the day was sandwiched between two terrible innings: the first of Game One and the last of Game Four.  And in the game of baseball that is just enough to swing the whole day in the other direction, yet so little to make hard to shake from your mind.  But actually the meat of the “sandwich” was pretty tasty.  Some big pluses to take away from the day was how our defense and hitting improved in the latter games.  With such a young and inexperienced team it was a good learning experience and challenge to face at the end of the day.  And for me it was just good to get out and fell the sun, smell the glove, feel ball connect with bat, and run around the bases.

Here  is a video collection from the games.

YouTube video with soundtrack removed by YouTube.  If you can match up the YouTube and Youku versions you can watch the better quality YouTube video with the Youku soundtrack.  Special points if you can guess the first song.

Youku Video containing complete audio soundtrack (for my Chinese viewers).


Train Ride from Wuhan to Hong Kong

A veiw across the harbor at Hong Kong Island.

A veiw across the harbor at Hong Kong Island.

A few weeks ago I needed to make the Hong Kong visa trip. Like many expats working legally (yes there are a number of people working/English teaching in China illegally) I had to make a run to Hong Kong to convert my travel visa to a working visa. See… you cannot just mosey on down to the local Public Security Bureau or Consulate to change you visa. You have to officially exit the country and return with the correct paperwork completed.
So instead of boarding a plane I decided to take advantage of Wuhan’s new $2.2M train station and take the bullet train on down to Guangzhou South Station, bus to Guangzhou East, train to Shenzhen and then walk across the border to Hong Kong. Sounds easy right? Right?

The new Wuhan Train Station is big, impress and empty. Sorry no photos… it was like 6AM and my camera was secretly and securely packed away. Once inside there was quick stop at one of the few shops for some cup noodle (all the water fountain areas in China’s train stations and airports have convenient little machines dispensing hot or super hot water for you tea , noodles or you confusion). The announcements for the train arrival began. Because I was there (the only white person in the station) the poor girl giving the announcements had to use her poor English to repeat the announcement. I think I understood more of the Chinese version. Soon the train cars where sparsely full of passengers. Not the images I have seen of Chinese trains (most of which I believe are over dramatic visuals of holiday travel). So I chose a seat on my favorite side (today West, as the sun would be pouring into the windows on the other side). We zoomed along, passing small villages and farmers who probably cursed the damn train for splitting their acreage. We made a stop in a neighboring Province. A few folks and a lot more people boarded. One of the new passengers approached my aisle and motioned that he wanted my seat. Sure he did… it was a damn good seat (no sun, clean window free from hair oil smears, decorated with my drink and snacks). But he insisted and handed me his ticket. Yes I see… your ticket is a different color (blue). But mine is red and this is China. Red always wins. After quickly reviewing his ticket I realize he had a seat assignment… my seat. And now I realize my ticket also had a seat assignment. The print on my ticket was off track (text over text, characters over characters) but sure enough I had a seat on the East side of the train. So I gathered my things and moved east.

The remainder of the trip was uneventful and soon we arrived in Guangzhou (home of the Asian Games this November and an NBA game Rockets vs. Nets in October). My poor Chinese language skills were enough to get me a $2 bus ticket to Guangzhou East, which is where the train for Shenzhen departs. This is more than I can say for me return trip as I could not for the life of me find the bus from Guangzhou East to South, which ended up costing me about $30 (all my cash) for a cab to travel the same distance.
The rest of the journey to Hong Kong was pretty simple. The border crossing in Shenzhen was basically a big shopping area. Much nicer on the Hong Kong side of course. Once in Hong Kong I purchased a subway token with my Canadian (left over from the Olympics and which the Chinese banks would not take because someone wrote “Ben” on it) money exchanged and headed towards the bay.
My hotel was the YMCA Hong Kong, not your standard YMCA hostel, near the subway and near great view of the harbor. This is the perfect hotel in a great location at a great price (about $95 a night) for first time tourists. Check out the reviews on TripAdvisors, its top notch.

My hotel, the YMCA, is located just behind the Cultural Center (the large building occupying most of the frame).

My hotel, the YMCA, is located just behind the Cultural Center (the large building occupying most of the frame).

The visa switching process was a matter of taking a number, filling out some paperwork, paying extra money for expedited service and returning in two days (next day if you want to pay even more) to pick up the new visa. Over the next couple days I did some sightseeing, visiting about every night market in Hong Kong, walked the many hills of Hong Kong Island, ate some good food, explored a real English language book store for hours (we don’t have this kind of thing in Wuhan) and took some pictures of the amazing harbor.

Soon enough I was back in Wuhan eating noodles.

A swamky shopping center (Cartier, Shanghai Tang, etc.) across the street from the YMCA.

A swamky shopping center (Cartier, Shanghai Tang, etc.) across the street from the YMCA.

The Hong Kong skyline at night from above.

The Hong Kong skyline at night from above.


Gansu Landslide - Day of Mourning

Gansu Day of Mourning television post.

Gansu Day of Mourning television post.

Saturday night I was in my apartment watching Terminator Salvation on HBO Asia (which never seems to be able to sync the audio with the video, causing a sensation that you are watching an English movie dubbed in English) and just as John Conner was saving his father and the future of the world… all of a sudden the screen switched to the above message. After reading the message a few times I flipped through the channels to see what was being shown on other stations. Most China mainland stations had switched their programming to the CCTV 1 news broadcast about the Gansu landslides. A few channels (Taiwan’s Phoenix channels and some Hong Kong channels) continued with their own news broadcast and only one channel (Discovery) seem to avoid the whole thing altogether and continued with its regularly scheduled programming (sounds like something said at the end of an extra innings baseball broadcast or awards show, eh?). HBO Asia was on hiatus for the full 24 hours while most of the other channels used the hours to show tamed down versions of their entertainment shows, switching to news stories throughout the day.

Other forms of mourning were also shown throughout the country. Flags flew at half mast at all official buildings. All forms of public entertainment, even at the World Expo in Shanghai, were suspended. Also, the front pages of newspapers and major websites were removed of all color.

I like the idea of paying this sort of tribute to victims of the Gansu’s landslide. I cannot remember a time in the US when all “entertainment” channels are turned off to pay tribute. The closest thing I can think of is when the major networks switch programming to Presidential debates, Presidential addresses or white Broncos speeding down a California interstate. Too often we pay no attention to the world around us. It has become too easy to switching on the television and become lost in a fictitious wartime struggle of man against robots when we have real life wars and struggles against tragedy happening around us. If anything the suspension of entertainment television did point my attention to the people of northwest China who have been affected by this tragedy. If that was the purpose then it worked in my case. It worked at least until later the following day when I went to the gym to produce my own form of basketball entertainment, when during the first game I rolled my ankle (which is now officially a fankle and propped up on some pillows with ice attached). I guess I deserved it. Now I have about a week to heal and think about the landslide disaster.

For those of you with not so much time on your hands…. Take a look at some of these images of the damage experienced by your neighbors.

FYI, I did not take these photos. They are from a great little photo blog run by the Boston Globe.

The landslide-hit town of Zhouqu in Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province, China on August 9, 2010. Chinese rescuers armed with little more than shovels and hoes hunted for survivors of a huge mudslide, as relatives of the missing trekked into the disaster zone to look for their loved ones. (REUTERS/Aly Song)

The landslide-hit town of Zhouqu in Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province, China on August 9, 2010. Chinese rescuers armed with little more than shovels and hoes hunted for survivors of a huge mudslide, as relatives of the missing trekked into the disaster zone to look for their loved ones. (REUTERS/Aly Song)

A girl stands on the debris of damaged buildings in Zhouqu County China on August 10, 2010. (REUTERS/Stringer)

A girl stands on the debris of damaged buildings in Zhouqu County China on August 10, 2010. (REUTERS/Stringer)

Workers disinfect a landslide-hit street in Zhouqu, China on August 11, 2010. (REUTERS/Stringer)

Workers disinfect a landslide-hit street in Zhouqu, China on August 11, 2010. (REUTERS/Stringer)

A woman cries while lying on the body of her dead child amid the rubble of landslide devastation in Zhouqu on August 11, 2010. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

A woman cries while lying on the body of her dead child amid the rubble of landslide devastation in Zhouqu on August 11, 2010. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)


Street Basketball in China

8th Wonder Prepares for Battle

8th Wonder Prepares for Battle

A few weekends ago American Streetball came to China.  A group of American players made the long journey over here to be ambassadors of streetball.  The tour (organized by Crossover Sports and Shemgod) actually started back in the spring as event organizers hosted grassroot events in five Chinese cities as a sort of tryout for Street China, the team to oppose the American SKY team.  Think of Street China as the Washington Generals, of Harlem Globetrotters fame… but not really.  Once Street China had chosen its 12 players they were ready to take on team SKY in a three city exhibition tour.  Luckily this included a stop in Wuhan at the Huazhong Institute of Science and Technology, just a few bus stops from my apartment.  Each tour setup is basically a standard four-quarter game with music, dancers, referees (who were not really in on the entertainment value and made way too many traveling calls), SWAG (t-shirts and sweat bands) for fans, photographers (me), M.C. and short halftime skills program.  Before opening tip the Wuhan crowd grew to over 4,000 in the 5,000+ stadium, so the house was fairly full.  The fans cheered when the SKY dunked and Street China scored but remained relatively quiet yet entertained.  Despite being a little frustrated by the consistent grabbing and reaching defensive tactics of the Chinese throughout the game (play a pickup game in China and you will understand their frustration), both sides found their momentum in the final quarter and ended a flurry of buckets and cheers from the crowd.  Final score SKY 106 and China Street 53.  It seemed closer but defense wins championships… and the Chinese have a little work to do in that category.  The tour will continue on to Shanghai (and has already stopped in Beijing) to wrap up the month long experiment.  Once the live basketball is finished CCTV will produce an eight episode  reality television to be shown nationally.  Unfortunately my CCTV 5 comes in fuzzy and is of course in Mandarin.

I was able to talk to a few of the players before the game and at halftime.  Good guys who have a good life traveling and playing basketball in front of decent sized crowds.  I did a little digging and found some info on Team SKY.

” Mr. 720″  Taurian Fontenette: from Hitchcock, Texas and former player at UTEP and Richland College (yep, the same one where I took photography and language courses while living in Dallas). Check out his dunk videos HERE.

“Spyda” Dennis Chism: from Atlanta, Georgia has traveled the world playing ball for the likes of AND 1, SKY and the ABA.

“Helicopter” John Humphrey: From Atlantic Beach, North Carolina has been a longtime teammate of Spyda on the streetball hoops tours.  He played high school ball at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia and finished his college career at Middle Tennessee State University.

“Pat the Roc” Pat Robinson: from Prince Fredrick, Maryland area  has been featured on advertising campaigns from Under Armor to the NCAA.  Due to his fancy dribbling skills and dunking ability he has been added to a number or international basketball entertainment tours.

“8th Wonder” Antwan Scott: from New Bern, North Carolina was the big man  (6′8″ and 215 lbs) in the paint all night.  A force and a talent who played high school ball at the Oak Hill Academy and college (from 1998-2002) at Wake Forest.

“Big Swoal” James Rhodes: from Wilmington, North Carolina does the dirty work, rebounding and setting picks for so the flashy players have clear lanes to the basket.

“AO” Aaron Owens: from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is a quick and crafty (6′3″ 165 lbs) player who has spent many season with AND 1 and the Ball4Real World Tour.  In high school he played with Rasheed Wallace and Aaron McKie, spent his college days at Henderson State University, where he earned Division II All-American accolades) and has a few NBAD games on his resume.

“Space Invader” Guy Dupuy: the only player not from the States, he calls Paris, France and any court in the world his home.  Mostly know for jumping over cars, people, horses, miniature cities, large cakes, and just about anything else on his way to the basket.

Guy Dupuy entertaining the crowd during halftime in Wuhan.

Guy Dupuy entertaining the crowd during halftime in Wuhan.

Timeout. Team SKY in the foreground and Street China in red.

Timeout. Team SKY in the foreground and Street China in red.

Street China bucket presented by our sponsor VOIT. Not to be confused with actor John Voight (see its spelled differently).

Street China bucket presented by our sponsor VOIT. Not to be confused with actor John Voight (see it's spelled differently).


Wuhan Graffiti

Some of Wuhan's Hubest Graffiti

Some of Wuhan's Hubest Graffiti

Spent some time last weekend looking around Wuhan for some good graffiti and found it. It seems there is a group of artists, calling themselves Hubest, who spend their nights tagging various business garage doors and advertisements. The names on most of the graffiti here in Wuhan tell me the majority of the work comes from this group. And lucky for us… they are pretty talented. Better than most all of the street art I found around Dallas and up there with some of the best I saw in the movie Style Wars (if you are interested in street art this film is a good introduction). From the looks of the art locations (one is along a busy bus stop connecting the Hankou and Wuchang districts) they can easily get away with their work. I imagine, like most things in China, there are people around to see the pieces being created (riding buses or waiting at the stop) and those people don’t know what to think of what they are seeing. Is it wrong, art, or the audience is so far removed from the world they just don’t care. Which brings me to the question… can you vandalize in China? I mean is it possible? In a place that sees most (80% is my guess) of its finished hot dry noodle cups tossed over the consumers shoulder to decorate the ground, what harm is a little paint going to do on a wall. And in a place with a rich history of graffiti (I am talking about the governmental slogans painted on walls across the country, from farms to factories, most of which are still visible), there may be an unconscious desire to see painted messages on walls. In America we accept the unflattering fetus billboard posted 10 meters away from the XXX nudie magazine/video shop all across our scenic highways. But we often squeal at the site of some well made graffiti in the playground nobody in the neighborhood has visited in years. Who’s right and who is wrong is anybody’s guess. Maybe it just comes down to our American appetite to let anyone who has paid to do something can do it (I image most graffiti artists would call it sacrilege to pay for a wall or a billboard to showcase their work). Anyway, the argument has already played out in American and people have chosen their sides. But here in China the argument hasn’t even started. So until then, if it ever happens, the streets and walls of China are open for art.

In sum, basically what I am saying is I want to see some pro-life graffiti painted on Uncle Jimbo’s XXX shop the next time I drive from Alabama to Florida. Otherwise all you graffiti artist should stake some new ground in China.

In the meantime check out some of the graffiti Wuhan is producing. I’ll try to have more posted in the future.

More Wuhan graffiti at the bus stop.

More Wuhan graffiti at the bus stop.

027Ray Wuhan Graffiti Artist

He probably rides this way home everyday, has he ever seen the graffiti?

027Ray Wuhan Graffiti Artist

027Ray Wuhan Graffiti Artist

A graffiti wall along the base of Turtle Mountain in Wuhan.

A graffiti wall along the base of Turtle Mountain in Wuhan.


A Walk Up Mulan Mountain

The "real" MulanThe “real” Mulan

Yes I worked at Disney for one year.  Yes I have visited the China pavilion in EPCOT many times.  No I have not seen Disney’s Mulan.  But… I have now visited her hometown and climbed Mulan Mountain.  The story of this visit and the “true” story of Mulan follows.

In downtown Jiang’an Wuhan you can walk along the Yangzte River and find a plethora of small travel agents selling vacations all over Asia.  Currently the best deals are to SE Asia, say Vietnam flight and six nights for only $600.  Among these various companies is a small-time operation selling cheap bus tickets to the home village of our favorite fabled Chinese Disney character.  On Saturdays buses departed at 7AM, 8AM, 9AM and 3PM.  You don’t have to get there early, just get there on time (more on that later).

Yes traveling in China is cheap, and yes you often get what you pay for.  So 15RMB (about $2.50) will get you a seat on a bus for the two hour drive up to Mulan Mountain.  Make sure you are there on time, remember you don’t have to be early.  When the small bus with the pictures of people having tourist type fun on Mulan Mountain pulls into the parking lot, chase that bus around in circles like the other Chinese.  Sure you are wise to the fact that that bus needs to pull around and is going to park nest to the kiosk displaying the same tourist fun photos as the bus, but chase it around anyway, everyone else is.  Soon it will stop just where you thought it would and the mob will jockey for position near the door.  I assume this is the moment when the bus driver looks at the small frenzied crowd and places a mental bet on who will be first to board his hell on wheels.  He times the release of the gate perfect with for the timely positioning of his favorite horse.  And the first person to establish two feet on his bus he is  is right, he is always right… it is the girlfriend of the slightly crazy looking one (who wedged himself between her and the rest of the crowd).  In this kind of game the crazies always win.  Should you be one of those closer to sanity (I place myself in this category), best advice is to stand back and watch.  No need to get so close to the cage as to have your finger bitten off.  Once on board you will know you this is not the nicest of vessels but hey $2.50 is pretty cheap.  So you are happy with things.     Even when the bus makes a stop 45 minutes away from your final destination to pick up passengers who will now double the cargo count.  Because you have a seat, you consider yourself  lucky.  Even if that guy has his crotch too close to your face and the guy next to him just stares at your foreign face the entire time.  It’s hard to find this kind of entertainment for $2.50.  A Happy Meal is at least $3 these days.  And this little box of a bus is much more fun.  If you look close enough in the corners of the bus I am sure you can find some toy or souvenir better than a plastic Shrek key chain.

Once you arrive to the entrance of the Mulan Mountain village, pay little attention to the women who board the bus just outside of town.  First, they don’t speak English.  Second, they just want to tell you the town is sold out of guest rooms and theirs is the only remaining bed in town.  When the bus arrives to town the crowd of even more women hawking their guest room will tell you differently and you will soon see there are plenty of guest rooms available and little English.  Don’t be too shocked if one of the women follow you around all over town, even wait for you outside of the bathroom.  That’s Chinese hospitality.  Don’t give in too quickly to the pressure of your new Chinese friend.  Take your time, walk the main street, pick a guest house that is right for you and in a location best suited to your liking (at the end of the street, need the convenience store, near the all night mahong game, etc.).  If you still cannot decide then the Fat Guy Guest House has all you need for around 60 RMB (less than $9).  The place is clean and operated by a nice family.  But if your shoes are wet from walking in the rain they don’t take to kindly to moving your rooms coat hanger into the communal restroom and drying them from the heat lamp.

When you have time… enjoy the hike up the mountain.

The local mahong hot spot.
The local mahong hot spot.
This way to your bathroom.  One per floor.  Three rooms per floor.  The second floor bathroom is inside but some guests where already there.
This way to your bathroom. One per floor. Three rooms per floor. The second floor bathroom is inside but some guests where already there.
Okay... so it is not the the most primitive path.  Kids are doing this with their grandparents.  But it is still a good little workout.
Okay… so it is not the the most primitive path. Kids are doing this with their grandparents. But it is still a good little workout.
Okay... so you can actually climb this trail with your children and your grandparents in shower slippers.  But I swear it is still a bit of a challenge.
Okay… so you can actually climb this trail with your children and your grandparents in shower slippers. But I swear it is still a bit of a challenge.
One of the many lakes you will encounter along the Mulan Moutain hike.
One of the many lakes you will encounter along the Mulan Mountain hike.
Mulan?
Mulan?

The “Real” Story of Mulan

The real Mulan featured on a mural in Baoan Temple, Taipei.

The "real" Mulan featured on a mural in Baoan Temple, Taipei.

Well before Steamboat Mickey was drawn, there lived a young girl named Mulan.  She was the only grown offspring of a  famous retired general.  He raised Mulan like he would a son, teaching her to ride horses and fight with a sword.  One day, scrolls with a message from the royal military were posted in all the villages.  “Each family must send one man to the army for battle.”  The old man’s body was was too old to fight but his warrior mind too honorable reject the request.  Mulan knew her father would die if he went to war again, but girls did not fight in wars.  She knew she must take the place of her father.  So that day she bought a horse, a saddle and bridle.  The following morning she stole her father’s battle armor and rode silently away from her home.

Disguised as a man, Mulan fought for many years.  Her battle skills were so impressive, when the war ended she was called before the Son of Heaven to receive an award for bravery.  She was offered a high position with the royal army.  But her wish was only to return home to her family.  She declined the offer and asked for a good horse instead.  The request was granted and she rode home.  There her family warmly welcomed her return and she gladly gave the warrior clothes to her now grown brother.  It does not take long for her to return to her true identity.  After fixing her hair and powdering her face she is quickly transformed into a woman.

Not long after, friends who had served with Mulan came to visit.  Their were amazed and perplexed to see the beautiful woman before them.

The story depicts the immortal character of Mulan.  She is a person of unmatched ability but also a common person. She is the combination of a brave warrior and a beautiful girl.  She does not wish for the high post and attention but instead is enthusiastic for a peaceful life.  It is a story of personal courage and triumph.  A story for each of us.