Saturday, 4 April 2009

LNII Series: Mr Forgetful

LNII stands for Lower Ngau Tau Kwok (II) Estate, the last resettlement estate to be redeveloped in Hong Kong. You may wish to read first five instalments of this series here, here, here, here and here. The photos presented in this series were taken by me with my GX200 during my two visits to the estate. Today, let's meet an interesting man.

R0013517 (Medium)(A customer shows up from the barbershop)

Yesterday, we read some stories about the old-style Shanghainese barbershops. Just as I was ready to leave the Hei Lin Beauty Parlour, an old man showed up through the back door. Obviously, he had just had an haircut at Hei Lin.

"Take photos of me," he kept saying, pointing an index finger to himself.

That was the moment absolutely welcomed by any photographer. At once, I uncapped the GX200 and turned it on. "Click! Click! Click!" went the camera shutter.

R0013518 (Medium)(Walking along the dark corridor adjoining the back door of the barbershop)

"Take more, take more," he was apparently in a high mood, grinning from ear to ear as he spoke.

After some shots, he set off and it was just natural for a photographer to follow him and take some more shots, just to be sure. As the flash went on and off, he asked me to follow him to his shop.

"Oh, he is a shopowner," I thought to myself, wondering what his trade was. "This is going to be real interesting."

R0013536 (Medium)(The big Chinese characters read from right to left, Cheung Tak Shing’s Store. It is a typical neighbourhood grocery before the modern times of supermarkets and convenient stores glore)

So a minute or two later we were here, "Cheung Tak Shing's Store". It was no doubt that the old man was Cheung Tak Shing himself. His store was a neighbourhood grocery, selling items from cigarettes to joss sticks. It was a tiny store as shown in the picture, with the private section at the back portion of it. The noise from the private section wafted to the walkway outside the store where I was standing. Some people were playing mahjong inside.

R0013534 (Medium)("I am ninety years old," he says. But he is mistaken)

I, holding up my camera, asked him, "How old is your shop, Mr Cheung?"

"I have been running it for forty years," he replied and, pausing for some seconds to fumble from his mind, continued, "My store is as old as this estate."

"Wow, that's something of an achievement, Mr Cheung," I said both wholeheartedly and with another question in mind. "And you look so agile in your age!" I exclaimed and succeeded in getting the answer to my unsaid question.

"Well, I am ninety years of age," he let out an air of self-admiration in his voice.

R0013533 (Medium)(Mr Cheung looks amused when an old customer corrects him about his age)

It was this moment when another old man standing just next to me interrupted him in a casual way, "Ah Cheung, you are just eighty one this year." The man was a resident and an old customer of the grocery.

"Oh, yes, yes ,yes. Eighty one this year," the octogenarian owner gasped in surprise and amusement.

R0013532 (Medium)
(Sales item from bottom clockwise: bottled Chinese herbal drinks, Chinese rice wine, boxes of Chinese alcholic health tonics, various brands of cigarettes on his left and beers below. Well, he makes his living as the good guy and the bad guy)

"I've mixed it up. I am eighty one and have eight children. They are all here today," he looked very pleased about the children as he said this.

"Who won't?" a voice spoke in me .

"Ah Cheung," the old customer was still there, "you have nine children! You must be out of your mind today."

Mr Cheung scratched his head in a comb-over style to cover the otherwise bald head. He laughed heartedly in embarrassment.

R0013535 (Medium)(He puts up nine fingers to make an emphatical correction)

"I am eighty one years old and have nine children. Nine children," he showed up nine fingers and corrected himself emphatically.

"Nine children, all here today," he added and smiled. But he was not going to smile in the next second when a voice bursted out from behind me in a high pitch.

"You mindless idiot!" the unfriendly growl alone was fierce enough to warn me to put down my camera, which was pointing at Mr Cheung.

It was Mrs Cheung.

"You are telling your privacy to the whole world, aren't you?" she spoke up with her hands on hip, poking her nose as close as possible over Cheung’s cheek. "How can you be so silly for heaven's sake? Idiot"

Mr Cheung grinned to me in great embarrassment as her cautious wife walked to the private section of the shop. Surely, it was the last thing he wished to impress anyone as being henpecked. So he kept smiling and muttered in a decreasing voice, "Take more photos of me and don't forget to send them back to me.

What a very interesting man he is!

- continue here -

Friday, 3 April 2009

LNII Series: Shanghainese Barbershop

LNII stands for Lower Ngau Tau Kwok (II) Estate, the last resettlement estate to be redeveloped in Hong Kong. You may wish to read first four instalments of this series here, here, here and here. The photos presented in this series were taken by me with my GX200 during my two visits to the estate. Today, we visit an old barbershop in LNII.

P1000921 (Medium) (Busy photographers with all sorts of cameras outside the barbershop)

R0013546 This is Hei Lin Wah Beauty Parlour. This sort of old barbershop is commonly known as Shanghainese barbershop in Hong Kong, for a reason.

Shanghainese this and Shanghainese that are a rather nostalgic, sentimental way of naming things passed down by the older generations. The utterance of the word Shanghai alone was powerful enough to evoke a reminiscence of its glorious past until the late 1940s, a time when Shanghainese flocked to the south for a reason we know very well. There was such a large amount of them fleeing to Hong Kong that all the Northerners became indiscriminately taken as Shanghainese.

Therefore, these parlours assumed the prestigious "Shanghainese barbershop" title although the old hands working there mostly came from Yangzhou, a city further north from Shanghai.

R0013510It is said that hairstyling was a novelty brought to Hong Kong only in the 1950s, thanks to the Shanghainese barbers for the enlightenment. All of a sudden, the simplistic matter of having a haircut evolved into a full-fledged fashion of hairstyling like Flattop (Ping Tou Chung), Comb Sideway (Sai Chung Tou or White Collar Style), Egg Tart Style (Dan Tart Tou, or comb sideway with think gel) or Teddy Boy Quiff (Fei Gei Tou, or Flight style).

There is something quintessential about the Shanghainese barbers. A modern hairstylist gives you a haircut after the assistant washes your hair. The Shanghainese way of doing it is in reverse: cut and wash afterwards.

R0013507(The barbers are in smocks when doing the hair)

The other thing is, unlike their modern counterparts, the Shanghainese old-timers wear smocks which has become a tradition of these time-honoured barbershops.

And the best tool of a Shanghainese barber? It is not a hair trimmer or a pair of scissors but a shaving knife. The old saying goes that Shanghai and Yangzhou are most famous for the kitchen knife, the pedicure knife and the shaving knife, meaning that Shanghai and Yangzhou are best in catering, beauty and barber services.

R0013508(The old timer is going to put some shaving shampoo and water in the cups for the shaving)

R0013509(Now he is shaving the head with the shaving knife in his skilful hand)

The special shaving knife feels (a video at bottom) rather heavy in your palm and really requires skills to use it safely. Of course, the Shanghainese barbers have no problem in shaving your hair or beard with their skilful hands and a sharp shaving knife. What matters most is that you must sit still.

R0013547

An account given by one of the Shanghainese barbers, Mr Cheung, reveals some unknown aspects of the trade. Mr Cheung was first into the trade some 40 years ago when he was in his twenties.

"First things first, austerity. This is the quality of a barber to start with," Mr Cheung reminisces. The Shanghainese barbershops attach great importance to service. So, for the first three years, the young Cheung had not been given any chance to handle a shaving knife. Instead, he had to learn by practising how to serve a customer, wash hair and run trivial errands. Naturally, all rough works went to him.

After the three austere years, he learned to shave beard and, finally, shave hair.

R0013550(The towels are hanging outside the shop to dry until the following day)

There is a whole array of services in a modern hair saloon. But in the old days, reveals Mr Cheung, it was the Shanghainese barbershops which pioneered in services.

R0013552 (Do the cleaning before closing business for the day)

Back some fifty years ago, massage service was a luxury to most people. So, the Shanghainese barbershops came up with a haircut package with which customers would be given earwax picking, massaging, and beard trimming in addition to a haircut. There were skilled hands for every part of the job: some barbers for haircutting, some for shaving beards and the junior ones for washing hair. These were all novelties back then.

R0013554(Hei Lin is well over 40 years, the barber told me)

That was not the only clever thing. The Shanghainese barbershops served customers with magazines, newspapers and even cigarettes for free. Radios and televisions were standard items to entertain customers. Frame your mind in the 1950s when most households could not afford magazines and newspapers, much less radios and televisions, and you know that the Shanghainese are rightly said to be entrepreneur minded.

R0013558 (A plank spelling out the price for every specific service)

Well, every medal has its reverse. There is something backward about these old barbershops. With a few exceptions, the Shanghainese barbershops provide man-only service. The reason for this should not be required making when you think about the social status of women in the old days. Some years ago, I heard an old folk recalling how people flocked to a department store to see the first saleslady behind the counter in yesteryear.

R0013556 (He is meticulous even in cleaning the shop)

R0013557 (The special chairs and then the racks)

R0013562 (Now the floor)

R0013563a (The two special alien-like cone-shaped things are the time-honoured perm machine)

R0013564 (The special chair each costed a lot in the 1950s. To do it in real term, it would be like some Hong Kong dollars $10,000 or US$1,280 each)

These Shanghainese barbershops are fast disappearing in Hong Kong. The first Chief Executive of the Hong Kong SAR Government, Mr CK Tung (the OOCL freight tycoon), had been a frequent patron of Sun Man Wah, one of the remaining Shanghainese barbershops. Note that it is "had been" because Sun Man Wah closed business in 2008. Sadly, it seems that they are destined to vanish completely soon.

R0013555 (There is going to be an aution for some of the old items in LNII, including one of these special chairs. Some of the proceeds will go to help the most poor households to move homes)

With the demolition of LNII, this Hei Lin Wah Beauty Parlour is following the same footpath. These Shanghainese barbershops are over, done with, finito. This is a shame.

R0013560

---

The following video report on the closure of the Sun Man Wah gives a glimpse of the nitty-gritty inside a Shanghainese barbershop.

- continue here -

Thursday, 2 April 2009

LNII Series: Stores of Yore

shops_head (This is the biggest paper tiger I have ever seen for the offering ceremony on one of the 24 traditional Chinese solar periods called "Gink Zug" [literally, Waking of Insects Day]. More on this in the post)

LNII stands for Lower Ngau Tau Kwok (II) Estate, the last resettlement estate to be redeveloped in Hong Kong. You may wish to read first three instalments of this series here, here and here. The photos presented in this series were taken by me with my GX200 during my two visits to the estate. This time let's walk around the neighbour together to check out some of the old shops still up and running after some 40 years.

Having weathered a history of 40 years, LNII is a monument to the old days nearly forgotten in this city. The moment I stepped into the estate on my two visits, it was like a click of fingers and "SNAP!" I was back in history. I walked past time-worn shops, seeing the old ways of life intact. Everything seemed having been a déjà vu frozen in time.

P1000914a (Medium)

Around the corner on one of the labyrinthic walkways, there was a store selling paper offerings. Outside the store stood the biggest paper tiger I have ever seen which is for the day of Gink Zug in March every year. There are two important rituals on Guk Zuk. First, there is the Da Siu Yun or literally, to beat the bad guys. In Hong Kong, it is a rather popular tool of sentimental relief among the white collars falling victim to office politics. These victimised people usually head to Wanchai and pay the old ladies (taken to be the present-day sorceresses) easily found there around Gink Zuk to beat the bad guys, which works like this by using this to beat the figure on this.

The second ritual on Gink Zug is to worship the paper tiger, which is usually a figure of tiger on a piece of yellowish paper the size of a palm. So, I was immediately attracted to this huge paper tiger when I caught sight of it. Its mouth is not wide open for no reason. This is a practical need for the ritual.

The paper tiger represents the bad guys and bad luck. The traditional belief has it that worshipping a paper tiger can release the person from bad things. "How?" you may wonder. First, the person dip a piece of uncooked pork into a bowl of pig blood. Then, the pork is put into the mouth of the paper tiger as if it were fed. Lastly, an old lady acting as the sorceress wipes its mouth with the greasest piece of uncooked pork. Now, the tiger (i.e. the bad guys and bad luck) is fed full and doesn't want to hurt the person anymore. This is why the paper tiger is made with a wide open mouth.

R0013538 (Some potted plants are placed outside the restaurant near the window seats, a sign of how meticulous the owner has tried to micmic the more agreeable setting of a classy restaurant)

On the other end of the walkway, there was the Phoenix Bing Suc (Ice Room) illegally occupying the common area which is typical of such an old style Chachangtan (Tea Meal House) in any resettlement estate in the past. Bing Suc is sort of an old term for such local eateries mimicking the then fashionable, classy western restaurants to sell, among other usual dishes, iced beverages and desserts.

R0013642 (This view shows that the common area is occupied not only for doing business but also for working. There in the lower left corner is a lady doing the dish washing)

R0013542 (A shot of the inside gives a view of the rusty metal wall and pillars. On the corrugated plastic sheets are two menus spelling out the set meals of which one is the "Cha Chang" [so the name Chachangtan]. The menu says that the Cha Chang offers the hungry eaters with a typical fulfilling meal including a piece of ham and a sunny side up, bread with butter and BBQ pork with spaghetti in soup)

"Hey, Come over this way! There is a barbershop the age of your old dad," a voice from behind led my eyes to a guy pointing to the other side of the resettlement block. When I turned round the block, some photographers came into sight outside the barbershop. They were busy taking photos of it. I pulled out my trusty GX200 and joined them at once. The shutter went clicking for some time before I felt really satisfied.

R0013546 (The rusty sign says Hei Lin Beauty Parlour. "Beauty Parlour" is a very old fashioned way to address a barbershop. There will be a special post for it)

R0013511 (This is a shot taken at the back door of Hei Lin. I wonder for how many years the senior barber has been working here)

So I waved goodbye to Hei Lin and soon after, I walked past a more (but not really very) modern beauty saloon which ran its business on the ground floor of a resettlement block. Its name? Au Mei, meaning "Europe and America". This is a very nostalgic name, I can tell ya. In the 1950s to 60s when Hong Kong started to soar economically, a lot of local small businesses took similar fashionable names. This name reminds me of a famous old Peking cuisine restaurant in Wanchai called The American Restaurant. That is a really old, nostalgic sort of place worthy of a visit and meal next time you come to Hong Kong.

R0013506 (Au Mei Hairstyling House with its price tags for all kinds of services posted on the door)

R0013527 (A big ad signboard reading "Au Mei Hairstyling House" was casually placed at the lobby of the residential block)

Some minutes later, an old lady somewhat hid behind the signboard to prepare food. "Curious," I thought to myself but got the answer when I looked farther away. The old lady worked in a Daipaidong (big row stall), which is a typical, open-air local eatery. Daipaidong is so called because it sets up tables in rows, to be sporadically extended over the place anytime when more eaters show up.

R0013522 (The old lady hiding behind the Au Mei signboard)

R0013531 (The Daipaidong is just some steps away)

R0013464 (The Daipaidong seems to have occupied any space available in the lobby of the residential block. This is not the worst part for public hygiene. I will write another post for the Taipaidong about its eye-opening open kitchen)

Now I had walked away from the lobby and was ready to venture into another dark corridor on the ground floor. In fact, I had smelled something enticing.

R0013493 (The gate at this end of the corridor is a common sight in LNII. On the wall is a signboard suspected to be illegally placed by "Chinese medicine partitioner, Ms TK Ho" which was written on it. I did write in a previous post that LNII has a liberal quality to it, didn't I? Some of us may miss this less rigid, more village-like way of life)

R0013494 (The first shop through the gate is a Min Ka [the Chinese characters], or literally Noodle Speciality Restaurant)

R0013495 (A man just finds the right seat to his liking, which is by the door; in fact, back door)

R0013497 (On the upper residential floor, the corridor will be the long, dark central corridor. The premises of the shop measure almost the same size of a residential unit, except for the area covered by the canopy near its front part. To the residential unit, the canopy is actually a concrete slab extended outside the unit)

R0013502 (Note the little hanging shrine on the left of the sliding gate of the noddle shop. It is the same we saw last time for the god of the earth outside a residential unit)

I didn't take any food at any of the eateries because they seemed to be on their own level of hygiene standards which may forbid me from going to work the next day, even though I could taste some Chinese herbal medicine afterwards to dispel any suspicious evilness taken in together with the food. What a coincidence that I went past a Chinese herbal medicine shop at this point.

R0013489 (Custom) (This is a larger photo so you can click it open to see the details inside the shop. The man is measuring some kind of herbs with a traditional scale. The desk in front of him is for a Chinese medicine practitioner to see the patients. Chinese medicine practitioners had not been legally recognized in Hong Kong until after 1997. Now they are officially registered)

Next, we will read some profiles of the more interesting shops. Before going, let's say goodbye to the paper tiger.

R0013543 (A Lurking Tiger: There is a brutal version of the ceremony. In some Chinese cities, the so-called sorceress cuts the paper tiger's head off with a copper sword or even burns the whole paper tiger to end the ritual)

- continue here -

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

F200EXR: User's Comparison Shots

image

If you are really think the previous post with some F200EXR samples by users not enough, the following photos are for your futher reference. All photos are published with courtesy and copyright of Philip form Malaysia. Thank you, Philip.

F200EXR
Full Size (small)HR modeDR mode
ISO 400ISO 800ISO 1600
ISO 100% CropISO 400ISO 800ISO 1600

Comparative Shots

F31fdF200EXRD90
ISO 100% Crop100100100
200200200
400400400
800800800
Full Size (small)160016001600
320032003200
64006400
12800

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

So You Want to Read Reviews

R0014070 (Medium)
(When you are old enough, you should be smart enough to use the right tool for finding the right target.  The photo was taken in the busy Causeway Bay on the Hong Kong Island shortly after a rude gweilo* crossed my way, bumped into me and sticked up his middle finger to me.  He was politely rebuked)

A reader asks me whether I think the F200EXR or the CX1 is better.

Actually, I wrote a relevant post on choosing cameras here before. This open reply is a supplement to it.

What People Read in a Review

As the idiom goes “Every medal has its reverse”, the same can be said of the digital era. Whenever there is a new camera, there seems to be an immediate demand for it. For one thing, of course, the versatility of digital cameras has opened up the market further into, so to speak, the uncharted waters. For another, users have been taught – or maybe “misled” - to be too specifications savvy, which is not preferable.

Since the Fujifilm F200EXR and the Ricoh CX1 saw the light of the market, there have been reviews and comparisons springing up on the internet as usual. And the same cycle sets off: the demand arises and the prospective buyers crawl posts after posts for an answer:

Which is the best new camera on earth that will worth the admission?

Basically, most of us are comparing the specifications, the areas where a camera fails, what noisy images it will make and you name it. We can do this as repetitively as can be. The crawling just hooks us.

R0014050 (Medium)
(Blurred: Sometimes, our focus is easily blurred by too many reviews and comparisons.  When I took this photo, I was too quick in order to miss the chance.  But I lost the focus, making the image special in its own right.  The Cookies Monster is a human size mascot)

 

What You Should Read in a Review

Yes, we should read some reviews and comparisons before buying a camera.

But first, don’t over do it. Second, frame your needs before reading them so that you know what information is of value to you. I know you are not stupid. But let me explain.

I can never stress too much in saying (again and again) that all digital cameras are comparable one another of the similar specifications. What makes the one stand out is basically the preferences of individual buyer. For that matter, a photographer should factor in his subjective, personal judgements in order to frame in mind which type of camera suits his/ her photography style and taste. Then, read some (some, not endlessly!) reviews to match the choice.

In short, read a review for what the camera can do and whether it can do it the way you usually do for your photography.

So How?

For example, I always carry with me a mini-tripod. The image quality at high ISO doesn’t really bother me. When I read a review, I may not count against a camera for its less satisfactory high ISO performance.

For another example, an experienced photographer may wish for a camera quick and intuitive to use for different photographic situations. So when reading a review, he/ she simply looks for the camera which features, say, 2nd curtain sync flashing instead of comparing cameras for their amazing high dynamic range functions just to discover later that their flashes cannot be controlled the way they usually do.

Now you can narrow down the matching choices.

Then read some commercial reviews for they are more technical about the photos. This is for checking out if the character of the photos taken with a certain camera is likable to your taste.

After that, you should end up with two choices. If possible, get your hands on with the cameras in a store. Otherwise, post a question on any forum for the most crucial questions. To make life easier for you, don’t put up an open end question like:

Which camera has better ergonomics?

Which camera do you think is the best?

Instead, make the question more like a yes-no question:

Can I tweak the exposure combo with one finger and without diving into the menu system?

Can I adjust the EV for the flash in some three presses on a button?

It is a subjective matter, however. The answers will be for reference only. Grab the one that suits YOUR needs.

R0014083 (Medium)
(Be smart, look for what may be hidden but important to your needs when looking for the right camera.  Sometimes, what is obvious and popular may not be relevant to you.  This photo was taken at a misty night.  The noisy ISO 400 of the GX200 does not do much harm here to my taste)

Some Further Notes

To me, I prefer reviews of a real user on how he feels about the camera after using it for some days. Those reviews give me information about whether the camera suits my style.

And surely enough, a camera with impeccable specifications does not make you a good photographer. Neither does the reviews. So be smart and spend more time on taking real photos and reading educational literature on photography instead.

And, well, as for the non-serious compacts like the F200EXR and the CX1, the same procedure can be applied. For the fancier functions which can be better performed by a software, ignore them.

----

* “Gweilo”, literally “ghost man”, has been a widely used Cantonese term referring to westerners.  First an offensive term, it is sort of a fun way to describe a close friend of someone who is a westerner.  For woman, the term is “gweipo”.  Both terms are used by expats in a joking way.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Harbour at Dusk

R0010949 (Medium)

At dawn and dusk, the light is characteristically ‘cold’ and blue, which can produce wonderfully atmospheric low-light shots.

I have read that most landscape shots are best taken using the Daylight setting, since this forces the camera to use a fixed, standardised colour balance and prevents it from “correcting” the colour of the natural light. Well, I took these photos with the GX200 on auto WB.  Maybe next time I should try to stick to the Daylight setting to check out the difference.

The photos were shot in sequence on the waterfront at Tsim Sha Tsim, Hong Kong.

R0010956 (Medium)

 R0010962 (Medium)

 

R0010960 (Large)