Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Quanzhou is a medium-sized city in Fujian Province, a historic port city that Marco Polo once raved about as the largest port city in the world. I like all the temples and religious buildings and whatnot, and actually visiting this city was my impetus for the larger trip. While it was a nice enough city, I'll admit it was perhaps the low point of my trip to Fujian.

But I'll start by saying: yes, there really are a lot of old temples and shrines scattered here and about. Many of them still seem in use, not just a tourist draw the way temples can feel in Beijing or Shanghai. Here's the largest and most famous, Kaiyuan Temple:

But really just walking down the street, it was possible to come across active shrines and temples. I didn't go on a big day for Buddhism, but the Guandi Temple was quite active, and even on the sidewalk people stopped to burn incense. There were prayer pillows just sitting around on the sidewalk, for people to kneel in prayer. I wish I had gotten a better picture of it:

And a little out of the way was Chongfu Temple, an interesting modern neighborhood temple with a beautiful grounds, and a lot of Buddhist monks busily going about their business:

Additionally, there were a few other religions represented: the world's sole remaining (crypto) Manichean Temple is located in a village nearby, UNESCO sponsored a very interesting paper about it. There's also the remains of the Qingjing Mosque from a thousand years ago:

It wasn't all old churches, of course, and Quanzhou has several long streets, filled with shops and restaurants. It's not nearly as vertical as with larger cities, though: most of the shops were kept to a single floor. It all had a lot more character than one might expect: here's a shop that sells only red dresses:

And here's a side-street full of restaurants, this one's sign offers lamb, goose, and dog meat. But all I saw was roast chicken:

While there wasn't much in terms of nightlife, I did see a really cool take on DDR, the rhythm-based video game. It was hooked up to a real drum set! This girl was good, from a distance I thought I was hearing some rock band, playing in a club:

Anyway, these shopping streets are very, very long. I walked them back and forth a few times, and got so tired! In addition to taxis, there were also a large number of pedi-cabs. It seems Chinese-y, I guess, but it's the first time I've seen them in a way that wasn't entirely directed at tourists.

And continuing on with my earlier discussions on xiaolongbao, I ordered the local variety, and it was one of the strangest versions I've ever had. The dough on the outside was thick and mealy, tasting more like wheat bread. The meat filling was hearty and rich, and the dipping sauce was a hot-sauce, rather than vinegar. I like it, but it was really stretching to call it xiaolongbao! Most people ordered it with a broth that had some peanuts added.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Pictures of Fudan University

Fudan University, in the north of Shanghai, is one of China's top universities. I haven’t attended the university, so I’m not about to provide some full-scale expose. But I did wander the grounds with a former student, and I thought it was interesting, so I’ll attach a few pictures in this update.

The University is effectively split into two different halves, on opposite sides of a major street. Right at the entrance to one side is a large statue of Mao Zedong:

There’s also a skyscraper/classroom building, the Guanghua Towers. It’s a new building which houses mostly science and engineering classrooms, from what I’ve been told. I can’t imagine how crowded the elevators must be, right when everyone gets out of class all at once:

And another skyscraper building is to the rear of this picture, on the opposite side of the campus. It's not quite as large, it hosts liberal arts classrooms.

The university has been around for slightly more than a century, though, and a number of older buildings are still in use. These buildings are much smaller and seem pretty pleasant. They also have large fields around them, and wide roads that cars can drive on, and really much of the university seems very much in the American university model:

And there’s also small parks and gardens scattered about:

I didn’t see much of student life, because I visited during the summer on a weekend. However I did see that the school had organized a school dance from 3-7pm, very quaint. On the Liberal Arts side of the university, there were streets directly off-campus full of bookstores and restaurants and so forth, it seemed like it would be a lot of fun. Also, the main pathway was lined with street-side dealers selling snack foods, or clothes, or even kites:

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Seagull Camera

Seagull Camera, based in Shanghai, is China's premier camera brand, which isn't saying much. Everybody in China gets Japanese cameras, same as in the US. The company has never even developed a digital model, and I don't really understand how it still survives – perhaps through generous government subsidies?

The Seagull headquarters is located near the Bund, on Huqiu lu near Suzhou River – it’s directly south of Zhapu Lu food street. I didn’t walk around, but I saw it contains a display room, where most of their products are for sale.

Those with an interest in taking pictures might find the brand worthwhile. Seagull exports their TLR cameras to a niche market throughout the world, they're one of only two companies still producing TLRs. These cameras use a film size that is four times larger than 35mm film, and hence contains four times as much detail – theoretically, image quality is much better than any 35mm or digital camera. In operation, they don’t really look anything like a normal camera. I’ve only seen somebody using one once, here’s a picture of it:

The Seagull model is an imitation of the premier TLR brand, Rolleiflex. Personally, I own a Japanese-made Yashica, which also imitates Rolleiflex, and can confirm that the picture quality is outstanding. While I’ve heard the Seagulls TLRs don’t have as good a lens, and that quality can be inconsistent, it’s possible to find them used for around $25 or less, say at the Xingguan Photo Mall. There’s also a 109 model that I suspect is actually an OK camera, and has a higher-quality lens. However, it’s a newer model, not available used, and sells at a higher cost than a used Yashica.

Looking at these used Seagull Cameras gives a quick look at the wacky economy of post-Liberation China. The brand-name “Seagull” itself was shared among various companies, who separately made the same product at different factories. Additionally, the design was shared with a number of regional camera companies, which have since dissolved, but the cameras can still be found used.

Seagull’s other main product is the Seagull DF series. They’re a line of film SLR cameras. Interestingly, they’re fully compatible with Minolta’s old manual-focus lenses (and vice-versa). These cameras are cheap new, and practically free used. It’s a very easy way to get into SLR photography – used, a camera plus a 50mm F1.4 lens goes for about $50. On the other hand, getting a used Minolta XG or X-700 off ebay won't be much more expensive, and they're probably better cameras. Anyway, here's some information on Seagull's SLR line, for those with an interest in giving them a try. I'd guess the zoom lenses aren't very good, but I'm sure the prime lenses are fine. And at $30 for a new 50mm lens, and $60 for a 24mm, it's not a huge investment.

It will blow away the results from any non-DSLR digital camera, especially in lower light. As an example, here’s a band-picture of Muscle Snog, taken on ISO800 film, actually with a slightly dimmer F1.8 lens. Fuji also makes an ISO1600 film, although good luck finding it in Shanghai.

And here’s a picture of a band taken on a small digital camera. While it’s not a scientific A-B comparison, please believe that I’ve taken a lot of band pictures, and both results are pretty typical:

The display room also (strangely enough) sells Olympus's Stylus Epics, a line of smallish point-and-shoot film camera. They're still new, and there's a number of varieties. I have a couple and love them. The fixed-lens is the one to get for indoors, but the variations with zooms are also very good as an outdoor camera.

Seagull also re-brands generic cameras and cheap digital cameras. I ended up getting a 25mm toy camera. It’s fun, even if it sucks:

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Shanghai Nights

I was happy to come across a video of the ultimate Shanghai song - "Ye Shanghai" or "Shanghai Nights." It's a jazzy tune from the 30s that I only knew through "Suzhou River," which is itself the best modern movie about Shanghai. It's still a well-known song with Chinese people. I'm told it was associated with the Paramount Theater, a jazz club on the far corner from Jing'an Temple.

Make sure you're in a place that tolerates dancing, then give it a listen!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Fujian's Hakka Countryside

This update is about perhaps the most impressive area of China I've ever been to: the rural interior of Fujian province, a four-hour bus ride from Xiamen. I mean, Shanghai is a lot of fun, but the stepped slopes around Yongding can be breathtaking:

The part to notice is the large structures in the bottom left of the photograph. They're crazy! Gigantic earthen buildings that housed an entire clan, they were built by Hakka tribes trying to steer clear of bandits:

The insides are mostly wood structures, with some stone, and a shrine (and perhaps smaller buildings) located to the inside:

However it doesn't really seem like a pleasant place to live: the rooms are stacked against each other tightly, and there's no modern conveniences like electricity or water. I also imagine that fire is a constant danger. Here are the insides of another tulou:

It's possible to rent a room in a tulou for a few dollars per night, but I opted for a place with an electric light and a shower, nearby. I was still located right nearby to all of this, walking around it was surrealistically beautiful:

That's actually a classic shot of Yongding, and here's another one, which shows how extremely beautiful the surrounding areas can be:

It's all farmland, I heard that the wood used in chopsticks is a big local crop. It's very interesting, the villages are populated almost entirely by the very young and the very old - people of normal working age have almost all left to Xiamen, or to other big coastal cities. Really it's just an eerie feeling. It also leads to surprisingly old people, out working the fields. My friends told me I should have gone out and helped, rather than just snapping a picture:

These houses recently got added to UNESCO's list of the world's top tourist destinations. But when I went, a few months ago, there were basically no other tourists there, and it was obvious people weren't used to tourists - I was constantly asked if I was French, maybe the French equivalent to Lonely Planet highlights the area? I was also told I was tall constantly. On the other hand, people were very polite, and didn't even stare or yell "hello" at me.

But there's definite inconveniences: basically nobody speaks any English, and there's no English menus (or even proper restaurants). So while I would definitely recommend a tour of the area, it's probably best to arrange the tour through a travel agency, unless your Chinese is pretty good.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Old Chinese Movies (For Free!)

I've become a fan of old Chinese movies, and I'm trying to put my entire collection online. Unfortunately, this has proven problematic, for too many reasons to get into. However, here are a number of older Chinese movies that are freely available for download - Chinese movies become Public Domain the year following their 50th anniversary of creation.

For those who just want to try a new cinema out, I'll quickly recommend the toppermost of the poppermost. My favorite is probably Spring in a Small Town (1948), with English subtitles separately available. It's a minimalist melodrama and quite lovely, there's also a decent re-make from a few years back.

Other top movies include The Goddess (1934), which is a silent movie with English intertitles, and Scenes of City Life (1935). These are both set in a corrupt 30s Shanghai, and both have been talked about before on this blog. "Scenes of City Life" was followed up by the slightly more upbeat Street Angel (1937) which has English subtitles separately available.

I'll make a quick list of the movies I know are available. They're all taken from Many of them are available on DVD in the US, and can be rented from, say, Netflix.

English Subtitled:
Spring in a Small Town (1948) (subtitles)
The Goddess (1934)
Scenes of City Life (1935)
Street Angel (1937) (subtitles)
Princess Iron Fan (1941)
This Life of Mine (1950)

Chinese Only:
The Big Road (1934)
New Women (1934)
Queen of Sports (1934)
Song of the Fishermen (1934)
Crossroads (1937)
The Spring River Flows East, Part 1: Eight War-Torn Years (1947)
The Spring River Flows East, Part 2: The Dawn (1947)

I personally view my videos using BSPlayer 1.37. Unlike newer versions of the program it's spyware-free, but it's starting to show its age. Additionally, most computers made in the last five years will have video-out, and can be easily plugged into a TV.

I'll try to write an update to this post soon, as I find more Chinese movies and get more posted online. I'd appreciate any tips if people know where to find more. Thanks a lot to for freely hosting these movies.