Thursday, October 27, 2011

Wuzhen, China - Part two

Our trip to China was just under 2 weeks. I took 3 cameras: two for stills and video, and one in the suitcase as a backup. I had to also pack a netbook with external HD's to make daily backups of my images. Whilst I also brought a small Manfrotto travel tripod I only used it once, though I carried it with me everywhere we went. On the plane you are limited to space and weight so you just have to make do with what you have.

I came back with over 38 Gigs of mostly video which was all shot handheld using my then new Canon T2i. I used the tripod one evening for some time exposures but it drew so much attention from impoverished residents looking for money or handouts, who obviously think that all tourists are "rich" .

One day when our group went to a mall somewhere in Shanghai it was expected that all of us would remain in the area and shop in the local tourist stores. I decided to explore in a larger radius and found myself in the Old Shanghai Market about a kilometer away. I knew I had a couple of hours to make my way back to the tour bus. I couldn't get over all the photo opps and immediately started aiming my camera everywhere taking pictures of window frames, clothes hanging on the line, old buildings and trying to capture the local people doing their everyday things. The market was also interesting with all the goods for sale, street food, shoemakers doing their work in the street. As this was an older area plumbing was added to the front of their small residences so it was unusual to find the sinks in the street where people were brushing their teeth, washing their hair. For me it was such a cultural shock of seeing life without many modern conveniences.

I brought out my camera and started aiming it everywhere and before I snapped a few frames I heard many people shouting at me and waiving their arms. I don't really know what they were saying but I realized that I was the intruder. I mean, who am I to take photos of them who have little and then leave and return to my deluxe American style hotel with all the trimmings while they remain in poverty . . . It was obvious to me that I could only photograph in these areas if they thought that I was NOT taking photos. So I went into stealth mode and shot mostly video with my camera cradled in my arm and aiming from the waist, without viewing.

I was told that the average wage in Beijing (for the working class) was around RMB 1,500-2,000 which works out to about US$320. per month. A little more in Shanghai, perhaps RMB 2,000. to 2,500 (US$400), so we are looking at under $15. per day. There were labour troubles at Foxcon which was big in the news while we were there. Front page news in some english language newspapers. Foxcon is the company that makes all the iPhones, iPods and apple computers. The workers were promised a wage increase up to RMB 2,500, but the company refused and only gave then RMB 1,800 (US$288). Until this trip I never knew anything about Foxcon, but they employ over a million people in Company cities

Sorry for rambling on and giving you this useless information, but in my long, round-about way I am trying to tell you that I took a lot of video and I have formed some opinions about China from our short stay from what I have seen and from what our Guide has told us. I have so much still to show you, but for now, here is some video from Wuzhen which supplements the previous post.


  1. Dang Bob, $320/month average wages....and I thought we underpaid our enlisted soldiers in the US Army.

    I can empathize with them re tourists coming by and shooting their pictures though, good that you went "stealth.

    I was also kind of surprised they let you wander loose, thought they tried to keep you with the group to keep an eye on things.


    Redleg's Rides

    Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

  2. Looks like you are getting really good at 'stealth mode'.

    I was surprised to see so many boats in the water going up and down the channel. Any idea what the boats are called?

  3. Dear Bob:

    I was taking pictures in the Paris subway when the gendarmarie grabbed me. They informed that such activity was forbidden... And this was 30 years ago.

    Sometimes it pays to consult a local tour guide as to the customs and laws of a country or region before one finds oneself in a tight spot.

    Yesterday's news was that the Chinese economy continues to grow at 9.20 percent. Yet if computer assembly technicians are earning $320 a month, or $80 a week, that growth figure loses a lot in translation.

    I enjoy your travelogue blogs. Carry on with gusto.

    Fondest regards,
    Twisted Roads

  4. Just catching up here on your China posts. Great pictures!

    The dentist I work for was able to go over to China about 4 years ago, with a native from there to "show him around". He was able to show my boss and his wife a lot of the culture without the censorship of the "tour guides". He really enjoyed the visit and also brought back some great pics and interesting experiences.

  5. Quite interesting to watch the video. I love still photography, but video picks up some things you just can't capture with stills. While stealth mode makes it difficult to compose things perfectly it does allow you catch people behaving naturally. Well worth the sacrifice.

  6. Charlie6:

    The rich are rich and the poor are really poor. I have never seen so many Porsche Cayennes, or Range Rovers, plus lots of scooters, more electric than gas. I don't think you are allowed to explore on your own, but it was free shopping time where I went somewhere more interesting. Most of the time you are in the middle of nowhere, with noplace else to go


    Those boats are for the "rich" tourists. I don't think the locals can afford to use them. I do not know what they are called but I call them gondolas

    Jack r:

    We were not in restricted areas. I asked the tour guide and he said no problem taking photos, but it was hard to do in the poor areas. Due to security in certain areas where they had Guards, they waved "no photos" by moving their hands across your camera, but I never thought at any time it was their intention to confiscate my camera or even ask to see the images.

    Lady R:

    Tours have a preset itinerary. If you had free time you could hire a car, which comes with a driver. Foreigners are not allowed to drive by themselves as you have to have a Chinese Issued license. We did get a map but we could not read it since it was not in English, plus we could not read the directional signs. No one pays attention to the signs and there appears to be no logic to the traffic

  7. BlueKat:

    I take a mixture of stills and video. I also have lots of stills which were aimed without looking . . . it is hard to take photos in non-tourist areas. Everyone is watching and looking at your every move. Video was just easier