A small list: FIAP Salons: open calls

Here’s a few FIAP salon’s with open calls:

Azerbaijan Photo Salon
Taichung International Exhibition of Photography
Atlantic InternationalPhotographic Exhibition
United Photographers Hong Kong
2nd Mahfuz Ullah Memorial Photo Contest

Good luck everyone!



Pingyao Ancient City – A place to remember for sure!

The ancient city of Pingyao is a well conserved, centuries old city surrounded by an equally old wall. This ancient city is within the city of Pingyao, Shanxi Province, China. Pingyao Ancient City is so well preserved that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site!

 

 

Although Pingyao doesn’t have an airport (the closest one is Taiyuan Airport), it does have 2 train stations. One is the regular train and the other is the high speed train. Taiyuan is the capital of the Shanxi province so once you reach there, you can catch either trains to Pingyao, a bus or catch a taxi. It’s about a 45 min. taxi drive. If travelling by train, here are a few things to keep in mind other than they were under renovations so I couldn’t get a decent shot 😃:

1) When you board the train, a train conductor exchanges your ticket with a plastic card and before your stop he/she will take your card.
2) If possible research how many stops away your stop is and keep count because I didn’t see any English signage at all, anywhere.
3) I highly suggest booking your tickets in the cars with a bunk beds or private cabin, because the regular cabins with the seats, well those seats look really uncomfortable and the people who buy standing tickets are standing around you. The cars with bunks have 6 bunks (3 on each side) per section with a small fold out table and two fold down seats in the aisle above which is the luggage rack. I booked a top bunk and a bottom bunk just in case one of us needed to sleep or if it got too crowded, which it didn’t.
4) If possible get the hotel to pick you up, the fee they charge isn’t much more than what you’d pay taking the street taxis or motorized trishaws and probably less of a hassle too.

Although the train stations are relatively close to the Ancient City, I don’t suggest you walk because the pavement isn’t all that smooth (from the high speed train station) and it seems that every 10 steps you take, there’s a curb. It was so frustrating for us, with our wheeled luggage, that we stopped and contemplated flagging a taxi, no sooner had we decide to, a motorized trishaw came sputtering up the street, in oncoming traffic, with an elderly driver waving an arm at us!

 

 

When he came up, we showed him the picture of our hotel he nodded, we agreed on a price and off we went. In the wrong direction! We kept trying to tell him he was going the wrong way and he just kept nodding, pointing and smiling. A few blocks later we turned into an alley but before any negative thoughts could pop into my head, I recognized the hotel, it just wasn’t the one I booked our stay in. So the driver goes inside and comes out with a lady who spoke a bit of English and she welcomed us. Even though I told her this isn’t the hotel I booked, she said it was ok she has room and we can check in now…sigh, gotta admire their persistence, tho! Anyways, without being too stern I managed to get her to tell the driver to drop us at the main entrance of the Ancient City and we were on our way.

The reason why we needed to be dropped at the main entrance is that motorized vehicles are not allowed inside the ancient city walls. Within the walls they use electric cars (glorified golf carts) and scooters. When you get closer to the city center, however, even those are banned. So it’s either bicycle or walking. As soon as we stepped off the trishaw, it felt so surreal. The architecture was historic, there was street food a plenty, craftsmen and women making/selling their goods along side more modern retail shops. Modern dressed people, older styled fashion, inclusive of children who’s pants had not bottoms. Yup you guessed it, when they need to go they just did it right then and there. Nobody reacts to it so I’m guessing that’s normal.

 

 

Other than being famous for it’s extremely well preserved structures, Pingyao is famed for being the financial hub of China back in 16th century and reputed to have had the very first bank in China which is now a museum. This museum is one of at least 16 historic venues you can enter and check out when you buy the “Town Pass” ticket. You’ll know if it’s an attraction needing the ticket because there’s a turn style gate you need to scan the ticket on (sometimes there’s someone there to scan the ticket for you). Keep in mind there are a handful of temples that are free to enter as well and a museum or two that’s not included with the “Town Pass” ticket. Budget two days just to see everything listed on the Town Pass.

As you move further away from the city center, I would advise you not to walk into any open doorways as it may be the entrance to someone’s home. Yup found that out the “hard way”, lol. It’s actually pretty cool, you enter the doorway which leads to a courtyard type area functioning as the common area with all the other room’s doors facing the courtyard.

 

 

If you’re not a big fan historical stuff and centuries old architecture then maybe you can find joy in the street food. There’s food all over the place! Some establishments have a steamer right on the sidewalk! You can either eat it right there or sit down inside the shop or maybe the seating area in the alleys. Checking out what was inside the steamers was kinda fun too. Sometimes it’s dumpling type things other times it was some type of bun (with or without filling). The best, in my opinion, was the “Pingyao Beef” which only came out after dusk. They set up fold up tables/shelf things in front of a shop that’s closed for the day or in front of a wall/empty space and proceed to sell chunks of cooked meat, “Famous Pingyao Beef” and other stuff. So you go up and tell the vendor how much (either in weight or $) you want and he/she cuts off pieces to weigh and puts the piece(s) in a bag. I had 3 or 4 servings just walking down one street, it was so good! My daughter, on the other hand, preferred these satay stick looking things that were some kind of meat, she went back for thirds then went for some gourmet popsicles!

 

 

If you’re short on time, the one thing that, in my opinion you shouldn’t miss, is walking the wall. Keep in mind that they close around 6pm and you can get some really nice sunset shots off the wall don’t be like me though I got rushed off the wall just after finishing setting up my gear. The “security” guys are on bikes so if you don’t pack up and go (or walk too slow) they’ll come back and rush you, lol. Keep in mind that you can’t get off the wall anytime you like, there’s only so many places to get on/off the wall and some are closed. The ancient city of Pingyao is definitely a must visit if you’re in the area and have a few days to spare. Better yet, time your trip to coincide with one of the arts related festivals!

 

 

Consider following me for updates and to find not only my other travel bloopers, blunders and shenanigans but also the occasional photography related review and contest entry.

All the photos (unless otherwise noted in the post) were taken by me and are available for sale. If you’re interested in buying an image or three, 😃 please don’t hesitate to contact me for more details. Thanks in advance!

Comments & Critiques are always welcome. As are upvotes and resteems, if you like what you see.

Thanks for viewing and best wishes,

Ray

PS. If you want to check out my other ‘works’, you can find them here:

Portfolio
Blog
Fine Art



Photographer’s travel hack. Have you heard of Nitecore?

I’m so excited! I got this Nitecore charger for Father’s Day! Man, I wish I had this on my Japan trip. You can read about the ordeal in my Tokyo Post. I’ve been wishing for a USB camera battery charger for years! This is the model I just got, the Nitecore UCN1.

 

 

Basically, this little device can charge your camera battery via USB. I always carry a portable battery and one that is capable of charging everything I use, including my “mini laptop.” For reference, my portable battery is a 10,000 mah battery with 3A output made by Red Monster (model: power up mini), it’s roughly the same size as the Nitecore UCN1. There’s bigger/better battery packs out there but that’s the one I currently use. Anyways, back to the Nitecore UCN1.

While the packaging/advertisement indicates that it can charge two batteries, it doesn’t mention that it CANNOT charge two of the SAME battery. My wife and kids thought it could so they ordered me 2 units so I can charge 4 batteries at the same time. Oh well. Regardless, it’s still awesome! Being so much smaller than the OEM Canon charger, this Nitecore charger is easier to pack (no wires to mess with too)! Also to make packing lighter on trips, I pack a USB charging hub which is capable of charging 6 USB devices (at 2.1 A) so the four of us can charge our devices (including my batteries now) at the same time without the need to carry multiple chargers, multiple travel adapters etc.

 

 

The Nitcore UCN1 is very light and made of plastic but not the cheap feeling kind. It also doesn’t feel like it is 10 ft drop proof either. The USB cable is permanently attached via thick rubber and is enclosed within the unit when not in use. The display is bright and the data is easily readable. I really love this device and for the sake of preparedness, I’m looking for USB pocket solar panels, lol. Having said that, there are a couple of “issues” or “pet peeves” I have with my units.

1) The display is so confusing to read. It toggles itself between a temperature and mAh meter, then voltage and different mAh meter. One of the mAh meters is how much the battery has charged and the other is for how much is being outputted by the UCN1? This is just my guess as there’s no definitive documentation on the displayed items on the unit or manual. I find it confusing and would rather just look at a power level bar, which brings me to my next point.
2) On both my units, the power level indicators show either one blinking bar or full even though there are bars in between. Even if I put in a full battery, the UCN1 will flash one bar, show the mAh numbers then stop charging and show a full battery meter. After watching several youtube reviews, I’ve noticed that the reviewers UCN1’s battery meter shows varying bars, not like mine (only one flashing or full). So I emailed Nitecore to ask if mine were defective. Basically, they never answered the question saying only that their battery meter is more accurate than my camera’s meter and shows multiple bars. Doesn’t make sense to me, because it doesn’t matter if my camera shows flat battery, 2 bars, 3 bars or full, both my UCN1’s battery meter shows 1 flashing bar, charges then shows full bars and the word ‘end’ when charging is complete.

 

 

According to Nitecore, the UCN1 is capable of: Automatic Current Adjustment, Battery Status Monitoring, Reverse Polarity and Anti-Short Circuit Protection, Battery Recovery.

Here’s the sheer awesomeness of a USB camera battery charger. In a pinch you can charge your battery using your laptop, hotel room’s flat screen tv (a lot have usb ports) I haven’t tried but it should work, car’s phone charger, someone else’s portable battery, those charging stations at airports, convenience stores, the computers in library, PC game room, biz centres etc.

I’m so happy I got these chargers (even if I think the battery level meter isn’t working properly), it relieves a certain sense of stress when it comes to power management, especially since my batteries are getting old. The peace of mind is well worth the price and it’s more cost effective than buying multiple OEM Canon batteries. I think if you travel and shoot a lot, one of the Nitecore chargers is a must (hopefully they make one for your camera’s battery). Oh, I’m not endorsed by Nitecore nor affiliated with them. If I was I probably would have units that read the battery levels accurately, haha.

More info on Nitecore’s website and the UCN1 Manual

All the photos (unless otherwise noted in the post) were taken by me and are available for sale. If you’re interested in buying an image or three, 😃 please don’t hesitate to contact me for more details. Thanks in advance!

Comments & Critiques are always welcome. As are upvotes and resteems, if you like what you see.

Thanks for viewing and best wishes,

Ray

PS. If you want to check out my other ‘works’, you can find them here:

Portfolio
Blog
Fine Art

*** This post was originally posted on Ray’s Steemit Blog.



2 days in Tokyo, Japan

The last city on our whirlwind tour of Japan, is Tokyo! Even with two days, it wasn’t enough to see everything we planned to. If you like, you can catch up on our day in Osaka and our day in Nara/Kyoto. Japan, is such a wonderful country. Tolerant, respectful, polite and clean. How many places have you been to that you’d drink from fountains like this:

I’ve taken a sip at all the fountains I’ve seen since being in Japan and I didn’t get sick, you should have seen the looks my kids were giving me, lol.

Moving along, after some delays, we arrived at our air bnb and subsequently had to rush off to meet my best friend, from elementary school, for dinner. After dinner we took a stroll around and then had a beer or two while my wife and kids shopped. This was such a welcome reprieve from the hectic of days past and what was yet to come. But first let tell you a story of a shop that saved my whole Tokyo experience.

For some reason I forgot my camera battery charger. I had the wire but no charger. I found out the night before the Nara/Kyoto outing. No big deal right? Canon is from Japan so I can get one easily. How wrong I was! During our day in Nara/Kyoto I walked into every shop that I thought may have it, no luck. Not even the huge department stores where there was a whole floor dedicated to camera stuff had any in stock and our guide took me to three such places! So with only 1 battery left, with any juice at all, I was feeling miserable knowing we were leaving for Tokyo in the morning and our itinerary was full. So being the first one up and all packed I decided to Google camera stores in Tokyo. For some reason I found this shop and Google showed it to be within walking distance (30 min away) and OPEN. I made it there in 15 min. I got back to the air bnb just in time to help bring the luggage down. Here’s the shop:

If you’re ever in Osaka near Namba train station and need camera gear early in the morning, hit these guys up! Now if only I had a way to charge my batteries on the way to Tokyo…

Ok so back to our first full day in Tokyo, first stop, Akihabara. Even though we were told that there was a lot of anime related shops and stuff, we were shocked and in awe of the sheer awesomeness of it all! So much so, that I didn’t take any pictures! There are multi story buildings with nothing but anime stuff and I found lots of my favorite stuff, from Dragonball Z to computer parts! Of course my kids had their favorites as well, which now included Gachapon. You know those coin machines that dispenses a plastic ball with a toy inside? Yeah those…there are tons of those machines everywhere! We even found shops with only those machines stacked 4 high in rows with space barely enough for one person to walk through.

Half way through the day we had to stop from the shopping to keep our appointment at the . Don’t let the name fool you, it’s not a cafe in the sense that there’s food. I’m saying this because I was hungry and waiting to go here for food, lol. This is a shop where along the walls are owls on their perches and around the room are tables for people to sit down and have an owl placed on your arm. They’ll place the owl on a perch on the table if you don’t want to hold one. They even have gloves for you, if you choose a bigger owl with bigger talons. This is a medium sized one:

There are 2 handlers in the shop to assist you with anything (like cleaning up bird messes, or catching your owl if you let yours go), we learned that from experience! You can pet the owls (they will show you the proper way) and you can hold a maximum of 2 birds during your time allotment. It really was a special place and we all really really enjoyed this experience. They take photos of you with the birds too and email them to you. If you like animals, this is one experience you don’t want to miss. The owls are so cute!

After the Owl Cafe, we went looking for food, there were plenty of themed restaurants and such but we just stuck to walking around eating street food and desserts, like these oven fresh buns that just got torched and about to be cut and filled with cream.

At night Akihabara looked more lively. Maybe it’s all the impressive neon signs or all the people dressed up as anime characters promoting their shop/restaurant but with hurting feet and too many bags filled with toys, we called it a night. Here’s one piece I picked up, SSJG Broly, from Dragonball Z. I’ve never seen this rendition before and had to get it (he’s my favorite character):

Day two starts with an early morning trip to Senso-ji temple. Right before you get to the temple complex are rows of shops but were closed that early in the morning. We did manage to check out those shops after visiting the temple and managed to buy some traditional Japanese souvenirs. As opposed to the ones you get from airports. The Senso-ji complex is pretty big, with different structures like the temple, pagodas, shrines etc. Here’s a gateway / entrance to the complex. Check out the size of those hanging paper lanterns!

The pagoda felt comfortable to me, I don’t know why and can’t explain it. I wish I could have gone in but it was blocked off. So again, I tried to capture just the “essence” of the structure using the infrared spectrum.” (second image)

Around the complex I found shrines of all sorts, some had stone statues and some of these statues were clothed.

Next we headed to Tokyo Tower. It’s like the Japanese version of the Eiffel Tower except it’s red. We went up and saw the view of Tokyo, pretty spectacular but I think it would be much, much nicer from dusk on wards. The midday sun just wasn’t doing it for me photographically if you know what i mean, lol.

Well, we’re running late again and rushing off to meet a college friend in Harajuku. She took us to Takeshita Street for more shopping and street food! Boy let me tell ya, the shopping here is good, as were the street snacks! It’s amazing how fast time flies when you’re finding good deals on clothes, says my wife and kids. Needless to say, no photos here either, shopping too good! So off we go to Meiji Shrine. We got there and they were just closing. Yup, didn’t see that one coming.

So we headed off to Shibuya crossing to check it out and meet a couple of friends who coincidentally were in Japan as well. We stopped for dinner at a sushi restaurant, in one of the malls we walked through, on the way to Shibuya crossing. It’s probably normal sushi by Japan standards but for us, it was SO GOOD! At the crossing, with my hands full and it and being so crowded, I only fired off a few shots. It’s quite a sight/experience seeing pedestrians cross an intersection from five different directions within two minutes. Experiencing it is way cooler than watching it happen on screen.

Next up, Pokemon center. My kids are fans but not big fans so they thought it was nice but not that nice. So we left relatively quickly as it was just a big shop selling lots of Pokemon merchandise in a mall. The last stop on our itinerary was Ginza Shopping District but the unanimous decision was to slowly make our way back to the air bnb. We were exhausted and not looking forward to packing.

As our trip came to a close, we were all relieved that we (just barely) managed to fit everything without having to buy another suitcase and as we were about to board our flight home, we agreed that we must visit Japan again.

All the photos (unless otherwise noted in the post) were taken by me and are available for sale. If you’re interested in buying an image or three, please don’t hesitate to contact me for more details. Thanks in advance!

Comments & Critiques are always welcome. As are upvotes and resteems, if you like what you see.

Thanks for viewing and best wishes,

Ray

PS. If you want to check out my other ‘works’, you can find them here:

http://rayshiuimages.com
http://newbiephoto.net
https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/ray-shiu.html

*** This post was originally posted on my Steemit Blog.