Saturday, 14 March 2009

How Do People Accrue Wealth?

R0011369b (Medium)(Toyland: How can she get out? What if someone grab some toys and run away?  What if she has to answer the nature’s call?  These were all the questions on my mind when I walked past this street kiosk virtually surrounded by toys from top to bottom, right to left.  The lady was the only one working in the kiosk)

Forbes has named Warren Buffett, the American investor guru, the world's richest man to unseat Bill Gates from the global throne of riches for 13 years. Buffett accrued his US$63,000,000,000 (£31bn) fortune over more than fifty years of mostly shrewd investing.

How do the wealthy people accrue so much money?  Let me give you an example.

I have a friend whose aunt operates a toy factory in China.  Her factory makes soft toys of cartoon characters as those shown in the photo.  Some ten years ago, it costed her US$5 to manufacture a big box of such soft toys.  When the toys are finally sold in the toy stores, the customers paid US$50 each.

There are overheads to pay for sure.  But the toys are pretty lucrative.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Chachangtang Again

R0013728b (Medium)
(Alfresco Hong Kong Style: A local and his gweilo buddy are having an alfresco meal at a local chachangtang. They were talking in English in a fairly noticable voice, probably because it was a pretty quiet side street at a non-touristy local area. It was likely that the guys had toured around the neighbourbood by bikes)

Chachangtang (literally, "Tea Meal House") is a topic we discussed some months earlier here. My wild guess is that it evolved from copying the then new-style, up-market restaurants offering western haute-cuisine in the old days when Hong Kong was ruled by British colonial viceroies.

Chachangtangs to the common folks in Hong Kong are what cafes are to the French. The only difference is that chachangtangs have some of the world's most exotic and unhealthy foods which will certainly tickle your fancy simply by their names.

Si Mut Milk Tea
R0013623 (Medium)

Si Mut is literally silk stockings. The name is originated from the rumour that the tea is prepared in a teapot with silk stockings as makeshift tea bags to sieve the tea leaves. As long as you're a tourist, I recommend you to check the teapot out for sure when you're in a chachangtang here. Locals would likely be cursed away if they try to do the same.

Si Mut milk tea is the true daily tonic for anyone old enough to be allowed to take tea once, twice or thrice a day. It powers one up for several hours in the morning until another cup is needed after lunch. All set meals in a chachangtang are invariably sold with a cup of Si Mut milk tea (or take coffee, if you really hate Starbucks'). 

The best part of it: Si Mut milk tea is usually served in a cup with a broken rim and tea stains inside. I guess that the stains are left on purpose to make the cups actually smell of Si Mut milk tea even when empty, hence adding a stronger favour to next cup of tea. 

Deep-fried Pork Chop with Canned Fruit Salad
R0013731 (Medium)

The choice of canned fruits gives an edge to this dish: a controlled quality. Taste it this time, taste it next time and they taste the same every time. I am quite sure that the combination of a deep-fried pork chop with the canned fruit salad is not what you can get just in any other restuarants outside Hong Kong. And the pork chop is so deeply fried as if the chef had tried to make sure that the pig was absolutely dead, finished. This special dish is only available during the tea time until usually six in the evening.  

Beef Tenderloin with Rice Noodles
R0013624 (Medium)

These rice noodles are the thick type with a chewy texture. The beef tenderloin is marinated in special sauce which just wets my appetite as I am writing this. The highlight, however, is neither the tenderloin nor the noodles but the soup. Take the soup and make the conclusion for yourselves.

In case you are not sure whether the one you go in is a chachangtang or not. Let me give you a tip. Look at the photo below. Usually, the waiters of a chachangtang wear the unmistakable whitish shirt and a pair of jeans like the one coming out from the chachangtang when I took the photo. Sit in or sit out is up to you and unlike the cafe in France, the charges are the same no matter you sit how far away from the shop itself. Try both sitting-in and the alfresco Hong Kong chachangtang style, and get yourselves ready to taste the eye-opening culture of chachangtang.

R0013631 (Medium)

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Aging on the Street

R0013708 (Medium)(Old Ladies, Small Talk: I have one of the customisable MY settings registered with ISO 200 with the manual focus at less than 1m, which is the ususal distance I have found in going close to a subject on the street. I turned on my GX200 to the setting and set the exposure combo when I was at some 5 metres away. At the right distance, I paused slightly and shot this scene. The short focal distance diffused the background a bit)

The more pictures I have taken on the street (I'm very glad that I bought the GX200 which made this possible), the more I become aware of different faces. Young faces, old faces; pretty faces, not-so-flattering faces. People age. When aging happens, the result will not be seen for a good while, making the person less prepared for the aggregate traces appearing on the face at a certain old age seemingly at once.

At best, we are the combination of some arranged bones and skeleton, a sheet of skin and a soul. The bones will turn fragile and the skin loose as the days wear on. What is going to left in us which will give us the charm is our souls, where true beauty lie.

The following are some of the faces of different ages I have taken on the street. When I arranged the photos here, scenes of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button sprang to mind, hence the descending order.

R0013234 (Medium)(The Old Shop Lady: The grainy image at ISO 1600 does justice to the weathered face of this lady who was keeping a metalsmith store. This photo was taken with me pausing at the shop front and holding my GX200 at waist level)

R0013694 (Medium)(I saw this madam with the charateristic gray hair through the windows of the van stopping by the road junction. I held up my camera and waited for her to turn around the van, knowing that she would looking right into the camera. This photo is the answer to my guess)

R0013709 (Medium) (This madam waiting for the bus caught my attention because she had a face similar to the old man's on the poster behind her. I passed by and stopped as if I were waiting for a bus. The camera on a strap around my neck was turned to MY3, which is set at ISO 100 and snap focus, and I slowly turned around. I metered the scene secretly, locked the exposure and took this picture)

R0013220 (Medium) (This was done more directly. I just walked up to the girl, held up my camera and took the picture. I have found young people less bothered by candid photos by strangers. Maybe they think it a pleasure and a proof of their charm. I have been warned that I could find myself being beaten up if I go on doing this to people on the street)

R0012562 (Small)(I posted this photo before. I walked behind her and made faces to her. It was in the morning and she must be still sleepy because she didn't respond to me. That's good because I knew she would stay her head that way even if I pointed my camera to her. So I did :))

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Architecture versus Building

R0013003b (Medium) (Tower of Crosses and Squares: This Bank of China Tower, a marvellous works by I.M. Pei, has intriguing geometric patterns which endear it to photographers. It is located in Central, near the HSBC Tower and Cheung Kong Building which is the headquarters building of Li Ka Shing. A tour in each of them, which will be best accompanied by a book on Hong Kong's buildings, will give you totally different feelings about how the architects treat the interiors)

Not long ago, one of the founders of MVRDV, Winy Maas, commented that the architecture in Hong Kong was boring. The world renowed architect, Frank Gehry, also said that Hong Kong had lots of buildings which could be called architecture.

I don't know on what grounds they arrived at such conclusions. Their opinions carry some truth in them for sure. But how much personal prejudice are there? So I approached the director of a renowed architecture firm, who is my mentor, for some insight. His answer was charged with bitterness, "Architects are by nature very egoistic. Few architects like what others designed." I can easily imagine how his business dealing with other architects has got him as frustrated as he sounded in his reply.

Winy and Frank could have been whisked in some fancy cars past the central business districts when they were in Hong Kong and caught sight of some buildings. Probably they have also got their impressions about Hong Kong from reading and discussions with their counterparts. For more ordinary people like me, I have found Hong Kong full of interesting buildings, whatever they call it in their professional jargons. These buildings are not necessarily in the CBDs.

When some overseas friends come visiting me in Hong Kong, I usually tour them around the buildings for a day. Central, Sheung Wan (literally, Upper Ring) and some old districts like Kowloon City and To Kwan Wan are must-sees.

The above is a residental building appearing like a pair of pants for a giant. It is fashioned after the Arch of Triumph. A wild imagination always sets off in my brain whenever I walk past it: how would it look if they even build the "shirt" part on top of it? Just curious.

(Click open the photos to see the pink colour)

I took photos of these old residential buildings in To Kwan Wan (literally, Earth Melon Bay). The old districts are so full of surprises for reasons of buildings and residents. One will see lots of things of unique characteristics, something which one cannot see just anywhere else. The buildings caught my attention for the painted external walls, especially the pink one which went so well with the cherry blossom.

The above is one of the old public estates which are vanishing in Hong Kong. These public estates are where you can meet the most ordinary people and taste a typical day in Hong Kong. Around 60-70% of the local population lives in such estates but the old ones like what you see in the photo are being pulled down for redevelopment. There is one typical old public estate that I certainly recommend to you: Lower Ngau Tau Kwok (literally, Bull's Head Horn) Estate. It is 40 years old with most time-honoured local shops still doing business. The estate is to be pulled down in mid-2009. The highlight is that you are allowed to go up the blocks there to get a glimpse of the living history.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Tips for Clearing a Lens

Once I took pictures on a windy beach with my Minolta SLR.  The havoc it did to the lens is shown above.  See?  The lens is smeared with greasy stains which cannot be removed.  It was retired permanently long ago for that reason but is perfectly well otherwise.
Now, my GX200 is exposed to a higher risk of the same as I take pictures with it on the street daily.  So, I clear it regularly after use.
Do you?
Lens Blower and Scotch Tape
Usually, I use a lens blower to blow away the dust clustering the rims around the lens and a microfiber cloth to wipe the camera body.  For stubborn dusts, I use a tiny piece of the Scotch Removable Tape to stick them out.

Lens Cleaning Paper and Fluid
Sometimes, fluid like raindrops get on the lens and leave stains which cannot be removed by wiping.  You may succeed in wiping the stains away if you apply force which you can't for the lens.
This is when you may need the lens cleaning paper and cleaning fluid.
P3084400 (Small)
There are several different brands but I think Kodak offers the best value for money. There is the Rolls-Royce treatment package if you have the money to burn.

P3084395 (Small)There's no harm in cleaning your lenses occasionally. If you decide to go with lens cleaning paper and lens cleaning fluid, put the fluid on the paper first (not on the lens).
Hold the lens upside down when you first apply it. P3084394 (Small)This is to prevent the fluid from seeping into the lens itself.

Otherwise, the paper takes a minute or so to dry a bit.  You may apply the damp paper after a minute.

If you really do have oil on your lens, it might require several applications. 

P3084392 (Small)After application, use another piece of lens cleaning paper to wipe the lens completely dry.  You may use a lens blower to do the job (but make sure that you don't leave any droplet on the lens surface).

P3084398 (Small)If you do not wipe the lens clean, the cleaning fluid would leave stains on it as raindrops do.

I use the cleaning fluid like once every 
four months.  Don't worry too much about the stains on the lens though.  They don't usually affect the image quality. But after cleaning, the lens looks like new.  You would be glad to see the result.

Fujifilm F200exr Weird Noise!

The above video shows that the Fujifilm F200EXR gives out noise on Auto mode. Comments from some Fujifilm camera users can be summarised into this: the noise is normal. Although it is not sure whether they referred to the same serious noise as heard in the video, those users also heard nosie from their previous FinePix models when turned to Auto mode. If you're a F200exr user, check if you hear the same "normal" noise. This may give a new definition to what a noisy camera is. How about this: Noisy Camera with Great Noise-free High ISO Performance? Just kidding.

Monday, 9 March 2009

King of Chess

R0012991 (Medium) (King of Chess: This is an old trade. The man is lining up several chessboards on the street, each set up with some designed chess movements. The challengers can freely play with me and may win or lose money depending on how the results go. I took this photo behind the standers-by, and was evetually spotted by the man)

I went to take some photos about chess after the post last Saturday on Chinese chess taken by Hugo.

Anciently China had four traditional arts: music, painting, calligraphy, and strategy games. The second syllable of Xiangqi, "qi" (literally, chess) is the Chinese word for strategy games. The first syllable, "xiang" is the word for elephant. This spelling is Mandarin, in Cantonese the game is called Jeuhng Keih.

Like Western chess, Chinese chess descends from the game of Chaturanga, from India. From India it spread throughout Asia and also to Medieval Euroupe. In China, the game reached its current form during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD).

The Chinese chess board is made up of 10 horizontal lines (ranks) and 9 vertical lines (files). The pieces are placed on the lines rather than in the squares as in Western chess. The lines are broken by the blank space that runs horizontally through the middle of the board. The blank space is the river. At each end there is a square with intersecting diagonals. These are the palaces, one for red, and one for black. The other markings are for aids in placement of the pieces at the beginning of the game.


The Pieces are round disks made from plastic or wood. Usually the colors are red and black, and the pieces are identified by the Chinese character written on them, namely:

R0012992 (Medium)

將 or 師 General (King) 士or 仕 Mandarin or Assistant (Queen) 象 or 相 Elephant (Bishop) 馬 Horse (Knight) 車 Chariot (Rook) 炮 Cannon 卒 or 兵 Soldier (Pawn)

("Hey, don't you take picutre!" shouted the man, "You may watch but no photo." So I left after taking this photo of him shouting at me)

There are two popular novels given the same title, "King Of Chess", which was made into a movie.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Heard about Eye-Fi?

Eye-Fi cards automatically deliver photos to Mac, PC and the Web

Have you heard about the Eye-fi SD cards?  It was shown in CES 2008 and comes in four types and supports over 700 cameras of major brands (unfortunately, no Ricohs), but the note at the end of this post* should be read.  It is a cool idea for photographers regularly uploading photos to computers and blogs.  I have made a gist from the information provided in the official site.

The Eye-Fi Card stores photos & videos like a normal memory card. When you turn your camera on within range of a configured Wi-Fi network, it wirelessly transfers your photos & videos. To your computer. Or to your favorite photo sharing web site. Or both.  There are four types of Eye-fi SD cards, namely:

2GB Home 

eye-fi_cards_homergb (Small)Wireless JPEG photo uploads to computer

Works on over 700 SD and SDHC compatible cameras

2GB Share

eye-fi_cards_sharergb (Small)WebShare for upload to online sharing sites

Wireless JPEG photo uploads to computer

Works on over 700 SD and SDHC compatible cameras

4GB Share Video

eye-fi_card_sharergb (Small)WebShare for upload to online sharing sites

Wireless JPEG photo & video uploads to computer

Works on SDHC compatible cameras

4GB Explore Video
(2GB avail-able)

eye-fi_card_explorergb (Small)WebShare for upload to online sharing sites

Wireless JPEG photo & video uploads to computer

Unlimited Geotagging

Hotspot Access for 1 year

Works on SDHC compatible cameras

eye-fi-logo-4c (Small)

The Eye-Fi Card will only connect to Wi-Fi networks, computers and sharing sites (like Flickr, Picasa, Smugmug and more, plus even Youtube) that you specify. You can choose the privacy levels that your sharing web site supports and even setup notifications so you know when your photos and videos are uploaded. For setting up, you can do it in a blink:

  1. Register your Eye-Fi card
  2. Pair the Eye-Fi Card to your Wi-Fi network
  3. Choose a sharing web site (if you want)

For FAQs, read here.  For the fact sheet, read here.

Please note that 4GB Eye-Fi Cards (4GB Share Video, 4GB Explore Video and the Eye-Fi Anniversary Cards) are all SDHC format cards. Because SDHC works differently then standard SD cards, this new format is not backwards compatible with legacy SD format cameras. 4GB and above SDHC cards can only be read by SDHC-compatiable cameras (i.e. any cameras acccepting 4GB SD card or above). Please refer to your camera owners manual or your camera manufacturer’s website to check to see if your camera supports SDHC memory cards.