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:

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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.



Kyoto & Nara was awesome!

Next up on our whirlwind vacation to Japan is Kyoto and Nara, in a day!

For this portion of our itinerary, we tried to get a local guide from Triple Lights but no one was available so they recommended a very nice gentleman instead. He agreed to come get us at our airbnb at 8am and take us around until 5pm. We felt pretty confident that we could do this and that at least we won’t waste any time trying to find our own way via bus and train as we did during our day in Osaka. So off we went, first up, Nara.

Nara is famous for the free roaming and somewhat wild Sika Deer, in Nara Park. What is so special about this? Well, you can buy special crackers from vendors and shops all around to feed these deer and let me tell ya, they aren’t shy! Many will come up and bow to you! Then you’re supposed to feed it a cracker. Or you can instigate and bow first, in which case they will bow as well. Really very cute. These deer go all over the place..in the streets, on the sidewalks and even inside the shops that don’t close their doors!

For the most part the deer are pretty tame, some are persistent and will tug on loose clothing. In my experience when they get a bit of leg, they won’t bite down. Most won’t stand still to be pet maybe just a quick touch of the head you can get away with. The male deer have antlers but the vast majority of them have their antlers cut off.

We all loved it and needed to buy lots more crackers. We also had to be warned multiple times by our guide that we needed to get moving as there were lots to see and many many more deer all around. Ya it was that fun, the novelty of bowing deer. Oh and just wait til you see the baby ones, guaranteed you’ll stop and try to feed it!

Within Nara Park are a few temples/shrines, shop house and nature and well….stuff like stone ornamental sculptures and statues. Here’s Kasuga Taishi Shrine,

Here’s Todaiji Temple. With it’s HUGE pillars and statues. Todaiji Temple houses the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue! If you’re into this sort of thing (architecture, wood work, history etc) you gotta see this massive piece of history!

Remnants of history, a golden spire from the top of a pagoda destroyed by fire:

Moving further up the hill (lotsa stairs), I saw this view…it felt so serene and surreal to me so I captured it in infrared to preserve that moment for myself:

I could easily spend an entire day in this park. There’s just so much to see! Unfortunately and reluctantly, we had to move on. Our guide asked if I was interested in seeing a real samurai sword…hello, who wouldn’t, am I right? lol. So he took us to Kikuichi Cutlery. They “engage in the manufacture and sale of hand-forged uchihamono cutlery.” This was such a treat! Being the cook in the house, naturally I had to buy a knife. Hands down, it’s the sharpest knife I’ve ever used! Engraved on the blade is the Imperial mark and they engraved my surname on it too! There’s a restaurant/bakery/tea house type setup inside as well so we took a tea break and had some deer shaped cakes! They were so good that we bought a box to take home, they didn’t even last back to the airbnb. Kikuichi has such a rich history, if you have time, go check them out!

It was at this point that we were feeling the pinch of time (gone was the confidence that we visit all the places on our list) and we resorted to riding taxis from here on out. Plus we requested for more of our guide’s time and he graciously agreed. Kyoto here we come.

First stop, Golden Pavilion. Wow, the gold you see on this pavilion is covered in gold foil. A shogun had it built for his personal place of worship! It’s really a sight to see! No one is allowed in now, I think I heard the guide say. I was too busy looking at all the stuff around.

And right around the bend is this huge bonsai tree:

Now it’s getting dark and it looks like it’s gonna rain so off to the Fushimi Inari Shrine (Vermillion Gates). Yup we got there and it’s raining (lucky we had umbrellas) and dark but wow what an atmosphere walking up the barely lit trail underneath the reddish orange torii gates the occasional stone ornaments off to the sides. You would think that it would feel scary but surprisingly it wasn’t, not even for my kids (maybe its because they’re teenagers?). In fact they found it had a “peaceful feeling”.

Well, the weather and the time put a damper on our spirits (plus all the walking, lol) so we called it a day and bid farewell to our guide. Although we missed going to our last stop, Gion. We were all feeling satisfied with our day and everything we got to see and experience.

If you can’t tell already, I highly recommend going to Japan and visiting these places here in Kyoto and Nara but also Osaka too! I’m hoping to make it back one day and spend as much time in each place that I need.

If you want to see more, please follow me as I still have Tokyo to document on this trip. Here’s my Osaka post.😃

Oh, all the images (unless otherwise noted in the post) are my images 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 wanna see 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.



My Trip to Osaka

Let me start off by saying, I LOVE JAPAN!!! I was fortunate enough to get some time to go visit, 7 days and 4 cities in December. Boy, let me tell ya that’s not enough time. There’s just way too much to see and do! Ok enough about that.

First up is Osaka! Of course, the gem of the city is our first stop, Osaka Castle.

I love visiting historical places, seeing the artistic styles and craftsmanship. I like trying to imagine what it must have been like back then, what the culture would have been like. Anyways, the castle grounds is pretty big but walk-able and open to visitors without having to register. Standing in the shadow of this castle, even knowing it was rebuilt, felt awesome!

Around the castle’s premises is a big moat, well a few moats, it’s not one gigantic ring of water around the castle. Parts of the moat is now dry, some parts wide and long enough for boat rides while the rest is home to many different species of birds, like this guy (I think it’s a duck):

Moving on via train and walking, we saw a variety of shrines and temples but I only got to explore 2 due to time constraints. Here’s an image of the dog shrine near Osaka Castle:

and here’s one of Tenmangu Shrine:

There so much culture/history that i wanted to see, but I lost the vote, my kids wanted to check out the Osaka Aquarium because the whale shark is one of their favorite animals. So here it is:

Just kidding, that’s just the huge sculpture “swimming” up the side of the Osaka Aquarium. It lights up at night, it’s really quite pretty. Here a close up of one of the two whale sharks:

Now within the same plaza area as the Osaka Aquarium is a boat ride tourist attraction. A replica of the Santa Maria (the largest of the three ships used by Christopher Columbus to sail to North America). Due to time constraints we didn’t go, plus a couple of us get sea sick. Here’s a snap:

As it was getting dark and noticeably colder we skipped the huge ferris wheel directly across the plaza from the aquarium.

Plus we had one more stop, Dotonburi. I was really looking forward to the neon signs and sculptured signage while my family wanted to shop. Anyways, it was a lot to see and surprisingly crowded, not crazy crowded but enough to know not to setup a tripod. As a beer lover, I had to take this image:

The yellow neon actually starts from the bottom and rises like filling a glass with beer! I think it’s about 4 stories high, so cool! The signage of some of these shops are amazing! Then you get this:

A ferris…oval? Yup this adorns the Don Quijote building. Don Quijote is a shop that sells almost everything, I think, and occupies the whole building.

It was at this point, we all looked at each other and knowingly realized that we only had enough energy to get back to the room. Surprisingly, although we knew we missed out on some experiences, we were completely satisfied with what we did experience.

If you wanna see more, please follow me. I still have Kyoto, Nara and Tokyo to document this trip.

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 wanna see 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.



Review of the Pingyao International Photography Festival

The Pingyao International Photography Festival 2017 is held within the Pingyao Ancient City, Pingyao County, Shanxi Province, China.

PIPF 2017 Gate outside the ancient city adjacent to park.

It is the largest photography exhibition in China and 2017 marked its’ 17th anniversary. What I thought was really unique about the PIPF is its’ location, it’s set in the county of Pingyao, in the section of the city that’s kept it’s “ancient” Han Dynasty architecture for the most part. Hence the name for it, “Pingyao Ancient City” there is much historical significance to this city, so much so that it has been named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. A truly awesome venue for a photography festival.

If you’re a participant attending the opening ceremony, you will need your participant’s badge to get into the central seating area. You may want ot be prepared with an umbrella or hat as the area is not sheltered and the ceremony maybe be delayed. Have a bottle of water because it gets hot sitting out there.

Parade to kick off the opening ceremony at the PIPF 2017

The amount of security inside the VIP / Participants area was significant.

The theme for 2017 was “With Original Inspiration, For Brighter Future.” The exhibits cannot be finished in a day if you attend the opening ceremony and have an open floor session for your works. Even without attending the opening ceremony and without an open floor session I doubt you can see all the works in a day. The exhibits are not all in one place/building, they are spread out all over and not just inside buildings but the outside too. I found works on the ancient city walls, on fences between buildings etc. There is so much to see and do! In fact, no one in our delegation had the time to visit places outside the city walls (I left the earliest).  But I think I saw the most of the city as I took a full day to do the touristy thing with my daughter. I figured I can see the works in the PIPF catalogue, I was wrong. The catalogue doesn’t include all the works (and it’s roughly 450 pages thick). Our contingent (the Photographic Society of Singapore) had 6 members participating, of which each had 6 images of 1m on the longest edge. There were many larger prints as well as smaller ones (Polaroid size). I hope that gives you an idea of the number of participating images which may give you an idea of the size the collective venue must be. The highlighted areas on the photo of the map below are the major exhibition areas.

Map of the major exhibition areas at the 2017 PIPF

Within the ancient wall, there is another barrier preventing gas powered vehicles from entering, however, battery powered scooters, golf carts and bikes can still enter and operate. So those golf carts are the “taxi’s” within the inner city and cost 10 Yuan (there abouts) per ride. There were a lot of people but not so much that it was uncomfortable. In regards to photography related merchandise, I only saw one tent selling photo gear (vests, filters, tripods) I’m guessing the photo vests were really cheap as many many people were looking, buying and wearing. As for the other stuff, I didn’t really look since I wasn’t looking for any gear to buy. Didn’t really notice any “branded” gear either.

Battery powered taxis within the inner city.

Battery powered taxis within the inner city.

Now for my fellow photographers, if you’re into ancient architecture and details, there are tons of things to shoot. Landscape photographers will probably have to go outside the walls.or you can hope for a spectacular sunset which you can compose well while on the wall. However, a guy with a bike will come riding around the wall around 18:00 to get you off the wall. Seriously, I had just setup my tripod and about to slot in some filters when the guy came up and started blah blah blah’ing…couldn’t understand anything except “closing” in a not too pleasant tone, he stuck around to make sure I started packing up, maybe because I fired off a few shots. Anyways, we were really close to the main gate (exit off the wall) so I tried to snap and walk without inviting another visit from the guy on the bike.  At the main gate there were many photographers still snapping and other people shooing people off the wall so don’t pack up all your stuff just yet, you still can get a shot or two off.

Sunset on Pingyao’s ancient city wall.

Needless to say, there were some truly remarkable works on display! I saw some really awesome stuff that made me wish I had shot it or wish I can go there.  Being a history buff I loved the atmosphere, architecture and historic tourists spots. I would very much like to visit again for more than 3 days and perhaps make it out of the city to see landscape.If you ever get a chance to get to the Pingyao International Photography Festival, it’s worth it!

A big thanks to the the Photographic Society of Singapore and our curator Mr. Vincent Liew for this opportunity and the PSS contingent for the photos below…

You can find more photos taken in and around Pingyao and the PIPF2017 in my Pingyao, China Flickr Album