From December 2008

Which Video Platform?

Now that I’m starting to create short videos with my new LX3 the time has come to decide which video platform to host them on. There are literally hundreds of options but to me only three main contenders: YouTube, Vimeo & Flickr (let me know if you think I’ve missed anyone important). Having played with all three here’s my take on the pro’s and con’s and what I ended up choosing…

YouTube

The king of online video has come of age with support for widescreen and HD newly enabled. Over 13 hours of new footage is uploaded to YouTube every minute which clearly gives you some idea about the scale of its operations and the massive community it provides. The player is functional but not the most elegant out there.

Vimeo

Vimeo is more of a boutique platform which values quality over quantity and as such has a smaller community than it’s bigger brothers.  It’s always been an innovator and was one of the first to support HD streaming. Easily the most beautifully designed of the lot, some serious attention to detail has clearly gone into the interface.

Flickr

starwarsVstartrek

Late to the game, Flickr started off life a photo-only sharing site but has recently branched out into video also. It’s implementation is minimalist and elegant – current Flickr users should feel at home here. Its major disadvantage is that it doesn’t support HD yet and clips are limited to 90 seconds (a “long photo” as they call it!).

The result – I like Flickrs simplicity and YouTubes mass appeal but I’ll be using Vimeo to host my little creations. They have the right combination of solid technology, nice aesthetics and an internesting community. If Apple invented a video sharing site it’d be Vimeo.

IKEA Shenzhen

If ever there was an indicator of the economic prosperity of the middle classes in China the presence of western brands has got to be one of them and they don’t get much bigger than the Swedish furniture conglomerate IKEA who have a massive store not far from where I live. Needing a few bits and pieces for my apartment I headed over there to see what I could find…

IKEA Shenzhen

Its Chinese name is “yíjiā” (宜家), which literally means “fit for home” in Mandarin. As usual the store was house in a massive windowless box with a single one-way path which took you through the entirety of their range. It’s quite a clever idea as the consumer is far more likely to make impulse purchases but my male brain hates it as it makes me window shop instead of just locating what I want and getting out of there.

IKEA Kitchen

Surprisingly the store was a bit quiet, especially for a Saturday morning when the ones I’ve visited before were packed, and there were only a couple of checkouts open. It looked like the restaurant was doing better business than the shop!

IKEA Lounge

IKEA Bedroom

IKEA Self Service

After looking though everything and taking a note of what you want you can pick it up from their self-service warehouse located at the end of the market hall and below the showroom. The majority of items come flat-pack and require self-assembly which is often easier said than done. It’s basically an exact replica of any IKEA you’d find worldwide – lots of good stuff mixed in with complete rubbish!

Christmas in China

Not having the Christian background that the west has Christmas in China today is a mostly commercial affair aimed squarely at young people. Yesterday evening after work I went for a wander around my local shopping mall, the enormous “Coastal City”, and was amazing to see the number of people out and about enjoying the lights and blatant consumerism –

Coastal City at Christmas

Although Christianity still generally frowned upon in China, there are an estimated 10 million baptised Christians (about 1 percent of the population) who celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas time and this number is steadily increasing.

P1000045

Usually the mall is pretty quite quiet (most the shops are ridiculously expensive) but tonight things were buzzing. Most the restaurants were full and people were queuing up outside.

Christmas in China

Classic Chinese dining with a festive twist! I’m not sure if many people knew the true meaning of Christmas but the children were certainly enjoying it and all the restaurants were doing great business.

P1000042

Ice skating in a city which is usually 30°C+ – it seems that no self respecting mega-mall is complete around here without a skating arena. I’ve only tried it once before about 12 years ago when I was in France on an exchange trip and wasn’t very good!

P1000054

It’s my first time away from home at Christmas and it feels quite weird not to be having the traditional Christmas lunch and sitting around the Christmas tree opening presents with all the family but it’s been nice to see at least a bit of festive spirit around Shenzhen even if it’s not quite the same. Merry Christmas to one and all!

Lumix LX3 First Impressions

My primary camera of choice for the past four years has been my trusty Nikon D70s. It’s a wonderful camera and I’m not getting rid of it any time soon but because of its size/weight it’s not always ideal for carrying around and taking quick snaps or shooting video (impossible). At the other end of the spectrum my iPhone’s camera isn’t up to the job of anything other than grainy low resolution photos – good enough for making a visual note of something but nothing more.

Panasonic Lumix LX3
Photo by Daniel Y. Go

Enter the Lumix LX3, a new high end compact from Panasonic which has been getting rave reviews. I’ve been wanting to get a compact for sometime but none offered quite the right balance of manual control, superior picture quality and HD video (more on this later). The LX3 sports an impressive  Leica DC Vario-Summicron 24-60mm f/2.0-2.8 (35mm equivalent) lens, 10.1 megapixel censor, choice of shooting aspect ratios (4:3, 3:2, 16:9), full manual control, RAW recording, and the ability to shoot 720p HD video at 24fps.

Panasonic Lumix LX3
Photo by Daniel Y. Go

Unfortunately it didn’t arrive in time for my previous weekend excursion so I’ve not had much opportunity to put it through its paces fully yet but my first impressions are excellent. The body feels robust and the controls intuitive – whilst it came with a weighty manual I only read the first couple of pages to get up and running. The screen is bright and the are menus easy to navigate.

Lumix LX3 Test Shot

I’ve been particularly impressed with its ability to shoot in low light – the above shot was taken through the window of my apartment hand-held on auto.

Dinner at Ajisen Noodle

I also wont feel like such an idiot getting out my camera to take snaps of my food now!

Guangzhou Gluttony

I spent last weekend in the culinary capital of southern China; Guangzhou. To say I ate a lot of food would be an understatement. It felt like a two day non-stop tour of east-asia cuisine with my stomach bearing the brunt of all manors of Chinese, Japanese & Vietnamese delights!

DSC_8898

Before visiting Guangzhou I was warned by many friends to be careful with tales of thievery and general social disorder so it was with some anticipation that I stepped off the train on Saturday morning. Whilst the city is a bit grubby around the edges it wasn’t as bad as I had been led to expect and indeed the city has a far richer history and culture than Shenzhen (being founded in 214BC). It was however very crowded so if you’re claustrophobic I’d advise to stay away!

DSC_8891

Lunch: various duck parts cooked to perfection – very spicy but a sweet sauce takes the edge off.

DSC_8921

Dinner: Vietnamese cold noodle salad with chicken curry (not shown) – seriously delicious.

Delicious Dim Sum

Breakfast: Dim Sum –  small parcels of Chinese heaven but eating too much may make you end up like my namesake (David = Da Wei = “big stomach”).

By the time it got to lunch on Sunday it was all getting a bit much and it was all I could do to manage a few pieces of sushi despite my friends protestations! After that it was time to head home oh train which was a welcome chance to relax and let the contents of my stomach digest. Sufficed to say no dinner was needed Sunday night 🙂

P.s. if your looking for cheap hotels in China check out the 7 Days Inn chain. I stayed in one overnight and found it clean and comfortable for an amazing 160 RMB (£15). They don’t seem to have an English website but the staff could understand me OK.

Dapeng Fortress

This weekend I joined my company’s photography society on at trip to the little known Dapeng Fortress, about 55km east of the city centre. Dapeng Fortress is a small but well preserved ancient town which was built in the Ming Dynasty (1394) to protect the southern coast from Japanese Pirates and later in 1838 bore the brunt of the British naval invasion (thus beginning the Opium Wars).

DSC_8558

DSC_8567

DSC_8580

Torn Posters on Door

DSC_8592

DSC_8601

DSC_8679

DSC_8685

DSC_8686

DSC_8691

DSC_8703

DSC_8706

DSC_8725

DSC_8728

DSC_8731

DSC_8735

DSC_8736

DSC_8737

DSC_8738

DSC_8742

DSC_8743

DSC_8746

Danger! Keep Out!

DSC_8806

Mother & Baby

DSC_8818

DSC_8822

DSC_8832

DSC_8834

Washing Day

DSC_8837

DSC_8846

DSC_8851

What makes the town even more fascinating is that it’s still lived in, mainly by migrant workers, with everyday life taking place amongst 600 years of history. The narrow streets contain countless hidden architectural gems from ornately carved wooden beams to beautiful door paintings and a number of fresh water wells (still in use).

Most of the town is in reasonable condition although work is being undertaken to restore and maintain some areas under its state protected status. It well worth taking a few hours to wander around and might just be the perfect getaway from the non-stop hustle and bustle of the city.

Maxim’s Palace

Maxims Palace

If Dim Sum is your thing then Hong Kong is the right place to go. On my last visit I went to Maxim’s Palace, reputably one of the best restaurants to sample this delicious delicacy, strangely located in the City Hall. As it’s so popular be prepared for a wait when you arrive – you’ll be given a ticket with a number on which will invariably only make you more hungry as you soak up the sights and smells from the enormous dining hall with a great view over Victoria Harbour.

DSC_8467

“Traditional dim sum includes various types of steamed buns such as cha siu baaudumplings and rice noodle rolls (cheong fun), which contain a range of ingredients, including beef, chicken, pork, prawns and vegetarian options… Dim sum can be cooked by steaming and frying, among other methods. The serving sizes are usually small and normally served as three or four pieces in one dish.”

DSC_8473

Because of the small portions you can try many different types in one sitting which you pick from carts being wheeled around the restaurant. Most are served with different sauces (sweet/sour/spicy) and of course drinking tea (Yum cha) is a must. Be sure to come after 11am and before 3pm – you’ll find the restaurant in the very inauspicious looking City Hall building on the second floor not far from Central MTR station (map).

DSC_8468

It’s not the cheapest place by Chinese standards at 25-50 HKD per dish (£2-4) but well worth it given the exception quality and great setting. If you can’t make it to Hong Kong but are in London I also highly recommend the Dragon Castle which I previously reviewed and often frequented when I lived there!

Shenzhen: Before and After

The city of Shenzhen in China developed at a rate unseen before in history. Before the 1980’s it was a small fishing village formerly known as Bao’an County (宝安县), today it’s a sprawling city of 12 million+ inhabitants and is still growing. Recently I stumbled across some fascinating pictures showing its development  over the past 30 years which I thought I’d share –

Before (circa 1980):

Shenzhen Before Construction Boom
Shenzhen Bay around Shawei, Shatou and Huanggang – mostly farmland.

Shenzhen Before Construction Boom

Shenzhen Before Construction Boom

During (circa 80’s / early 90’s):

Shenzhen During Construction Boom
The plan begins to come together with Deng Xiaoping at the helm – Shenzhen Special Economic Zone is born.

old school shenzhen

old school shenzhen

After (mid 1990’s):

Shenzhen After Construction Boom
Southern China has a new financial centre and the second busiest port in China.

Shenzhen After Construction Boom

Shenzhen After Construction Boom

Shenzhen After Construction Boom

I find it uterly incredbile to think that almost within my own lifetime (of 24 years and counting) that a city of this magnitude has sprung up out of the preverbial dust. The perfect storm of  investment, labor and location have come together to product something as scary as it is magnificent in such a short space of time. Tighter integration with Hong Kong will only increase this.

More information –

Notes On Living Abroad

I was reading a great post on Shenzhen Undercover recently about the frustrations of expatiates living in China. The author hits the nail on the head; China can certainly be a frustrating place to live for foreigners. That said I think there are a few points to bear in mind here for anybody living or thinking of relocating to another country not of their own –

Frustration
Illustration by o_hai

  1. You are a guest in another country – don’t forget it. Treat people with respect even if they don’t show it to you. All to often expats get a bad reputation for the minority running amok abroad, don’t be one of them.
  2. Accept differences – even if you don’t like them. Shanghai is not Southend and visa-versa. There will be differences; some small and some large – the best you can do is to go with the flow.
  3. Try new things – yes eating a dog or chickens feet is a bit disgusting but if you get a chance to try something new go for it (as long as its not illegal, immoral or dangerous!). You might discover something new you like.
  4. Be patient, keep calm – some things will drive you crazy and make you question your sanity. Take a deep breath and grit your teeth, loosing your temper will only serve to make you look stupid and make things worse.
  5. Take a risk – your taxi may be doing 80 in a residential street, but don’t you feel alive? If you live long enough to complain about it to someone else then it was worth it – these are the things memories are made of!
  6. Be friendly – you will get asked the same questions a million times; where are you from, what are you doing here, how long will you stay… It will soon become boring but smile, when before did you get such attention?

Apparently I'm spelling my frustration with IE6 incorrectly
Image by fstorr

For the sake of a less stressful life I try to put the frustrations to one side but occasionally they do bubble up to the surface. Case in point I was in Hong Kong last weekend trying to walk to Victoria Park (near Causeway Bay) but the path was blocked by thousands Filipinos maids sitting/standing around on their day off making it almost impossible to walk. In the end I just gave up and went elsewhere – life’s to short sometimes!

When all else fails find a quiet place to silently scream 😮 How do you deal with stress?

Hong Kong Nights

DSC_8533

Hong Kong is a magical place, especially at night when the neon lights come on. As if held by invisible hands the signs appear to float in mid-air advertising all manor of unknown things (to the foreign eye anyway). The light they give off creates a strange sort of artificial daylight to the streets below and for the most part they constitute the only street lighting.  I could walk for hours here being drawn deeper into the narrow ravines between the decaying façades of shops and apartments memorized by this electric circus.

DSC_8539

Neon signs are made from luminous glass tubes that contain neon or other inert gases at a low pressure. When a high voltage is applied it makes the gas glow brightly. Somewhere there must a statistic about the number of people electrocuted or killed when these things fall down as some look pretty rusty and precarious!

DSC_8535

Hong Kong is a multi-layered city with walkways and platforms extending out at different levels above and below ground  providing its 7 million citizens with access to the heart of the labyrinth or if you’re like me more likely getting lost in it. The MTR is particularly rabbit-warren like and you can end up walking miles underground.

DSC_8545

Fans of the first Ghost in the Shell movie might notice stylistic similarities in the above shots as the film was set here (the TV Series moved it to Japan later on). I’m sure to back there in the next couple of months so if anyone know any other good places to see neon in Hong Kong I’d love to know.