Monday, September 28, 2009

Equipment Thoughts

For China, I packed three cameras, each with a different intended purpose: Nikon D300S, Canon PowerShotG10 and Nikon D3.

Nikon D300s–kindly loaned by Pro Photo Supply, Portland, OR–provided HD video and back up the D3. How did it do?

Video: While it took me a bit to figure out how to shoot HD video–probably would have helped to read the manual–it was fun. Surprisingly, because of its inconspicuous size, I ended up using it quite a bit for candid photography both on city streets and in the vineyards. Fun and easy for a D3 user to figure out the cockpit controls.

memory cards: I"m not sure why, but Nikon decided to make two different slots for memory cards, one for CF (compact flash) the other for SD. Two slots are a good idea for overflow of data from first card. But two different types of cards a bit confusing for me. I like the two slots just in case one becomes unusable–like bent pin.

One night at the "Disneyland" Chateau of Chinese Wineries we had a BBQ dinner outside while being filmed by a TV crew. This photo of the event is taken with the D300 S with ISO 200 (Sorry, I'm still stuck in the Paleolithic days of keeping the ISO low) with a 6 second exposure.

Cannon G10 humbled me. I use the camera to take quick 14.7-megapixel snaps, especially when I want others to snap me. Unfortunately, about a week and half into the trip, the Live-View function went dead. “Darn cheap Cannon,” I thought. “My Nikons didn’t go down.” So I used the inconvenient viewfinder to frame the photos for the last week.

Here comes the humble pie part. On the flight home I complained to the Chinese lady sitting next to me that the G10 was broken. No Live View. She points to a button on the camera back labeled “DISP.” It turns the Live View feature on and off. (“DISP." must be short for disappear.) I hope she didn’t see my face turn red. XieXie (Thank you in Chinese.) It seems she had a similar experience with her small Cannon camera. I didn’t bother to tell her I was a professional photographer.

Nikon D3 is my dependable workhorse. In the last year or so, that battle ax has been to Africa, China–two times, Chile and hundreds of commercial situations. I’ve printed 30X40 prints from it’s files-resed up a bit.

Driving an indicator of Chinese politics

While in China, it dawned on me that the way people drive is an indicator of the county's politics.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Warm Reunion in "Disneyland" Vineyard

I met this vineyard-worker lady on my first visit to Chateau Changyu AFIP (which I call the "Disneyland" of Wineries). At that time she went out of her way to be kind. First, she offered me her coat because she thought I was cold wearing shorts. (Chinese just don't wear shorts, well, perhaps one in a million. So do the math on how many shorts you see in China.) Then, when one of my tripod legs slipped into a small divot, she found a rock to make the ground level. Finally, when I pointed to a pipe coming out of the ground while saying "water" in Chinese, she runs over to her water bottle to offer me a drink. I felt adopted.

On this second visit there was a crew filming in the vineyard and my kind lady was one of the "background extras". We instantly recognized each other and I greeted her as warmly as my 20-Chinese-word vocabulary allowed. Language, however, was not a limitation. She excitedly explained to the other vineyard-worker lady "extras" how she and I first met. With lots of hand gestures above the knees showing the length of my shorts the picture was clear. The film crew was a bit upset. All of our commotion stopped the filming process as the "background extras" were not in position faking like they were working (in their clean white uniforms). Looks as if human kindness is more powerful than the Chinese version of Hollywood (would that be Chinawood).

This video clip is taken with the new Nikon D300S, kindly provided by Pro Photo Supply in Portland, Oregon. Thank you Jon. I hope to write a from-the-field mini review of the camera in a new blog hopefully later today. The gentleman in the pink shirt with the camera is one of the French film "stars". Oh yes, sorry about the hand-held shakiness and file size. This is my first attempt at video on the web.

Size Matters In China

The new Crown Plaza hotel in the center–right now the tallest building in town–next to the Convention Center in Yantai.

Maybe it's because China is geographically so large, or maybe it's because there are 1.3 billion people, but size matters here.

For example, driving just outside Yantai to Changyu Castel winery, the landscape is dead flat. Suddenly surrounded by dwarf fruit trees, there is a shiny new 30-story building or even a group of 30-story buildings. They are totally unoccupied. So was the developer anticipating growth 20 kilometers out of town, or did he simply want to build something big?

Chateau Huadong-Parry winery with the city of Qingdao in the distance. Is this not big enough?

The General Manager of Huadong winery near the beautiful coastal town of Qingdao has a beautiful Chateau nestled in the mountains. But she is building a new and bigger one not far away in Penglai.
Why? "Because in China, big is important. If it's not big, it's not important," she replies.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Almost didn't make it to the main event

Like a good photographer, I'm at the top of a old rusty lighthouse taking panoramas of Yantai city just minutes before the golden-light sunset. My phone chimes. It's Michael, my Changyu Winery host wondering where I am. I'm suppose to be at the reception 15 minutes ago. Opps.

Let me explain the situation. Here in Yantai, China, I am a guest of Changyu, the largest winery in China. During this 3rd-annual Yantai Wine Festival, Changyu Winery has a full program for its guests, of which I'm one tiny potato. Michael is my main gracious and patient Changyu contact. The Program calls for me to be at the Reception now.

So Michael asks again where I am. Insert bad word here. While talking with him on the fifth floor, I get on the lighthouse elevator heading down. Naturally, in the metal elevator I lose telephone reception. Inching down in the rickety capsule, I'm wondering what kind of bad thoughts about this errant photographer Michael is having. At the bottom of the lighthouse, I regain telephone reception. "I'll be there in 5 minutes," I yell, waving off the guard who wants five Yuan for the elevator ride. I run to the hotel pick-up location, after I paid the guard his five Yuan.
Michael, Thank you. I'm so glad I went to the reception. Look what I would have missed.

This last photo recreates what I saw during my ride back to the hotel. But the blurry vision is China's fault. The Chinese way of drinking wine is gambei. The Western world calls it chugging or bottoms up. In China, gambei actually means "to make dry", as in your wine glass. During the reception/dinner we dried lots of wine glasses.
But please note that I am photographing from the navigator's position and not driving.

Monday, September 21, 2009

On Being a Photographer

Today was a day of choices.

How long will they work for 23 cents a Crate?

These vineyard workers earn about US 23 cents a crate (about two basket fulls) picking Chardonnay grapes in a Rongchen winery vineyard in Huailai County north west of Beijing. Most workers will average about 10 crates this day.

I read somewhere that there are some 750 million Chinese living in rural areas. That's more than twice the population of the United States.

What a delicate balancing act the Chinese government faces. Ah, how to keep the rural population happy? Give them a little cake, but not too much. Imagine the day when these workers refuse to labor for $2.30 a day in the fields or factories. Will the Chinese economy–so dependent on cheap labor for export–collapse?

I feel most comfortable with these workers–actually around the world. They are so willing to share.

Counting Blessings in a Qingdao Shopping Mall

So here we are in a huge multi-block shopping mall next to my hotel. Since the $2.30 they earn in a day won't buy any of these items, I didn't see many vineyard workers shopping here.

Photographing vineyard workers one day and this mall the next, forces me to truly count my blessings every day.

Vineyard Lady

This is Wang Guorong, 58 years old with 3 grown children all of which she was able to send to finish college. She farms nearly 3 mu (a Chinese measurement where 1 acre = 6.67 mu.) most of which is in vineyard wine grapes which she sells to Dynasty in Jixian. Between the rows of vines she grows peanuts for extra income. Altogether she earns about 30,000 yuan a year (about US$4,380) from the land. A farmer pays no tax. She has major medical coverage from the government which pays about 70% of her major medical bills.

Guorong's husband works in construction and is not involved in the vineyard. She found husband through the local matchmaker. She says her husband is a good man who never scolds her or beats her and he doesn't gamble but he likes to do traditional dance.

It takes two people
two days to harvest her vineyard crop so she hires another person for 40 yuan (US$5.84) a day.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The One Kid Rule

In Tianjin I watched kids flood out of a primary school about 4:00 PM into the waiting arms of parents. Knowing that China has a rule that parents can only have a license for one child, I noticed several things that made me wonder about the future of China:
1) the kids are
very precious to the parents
2) the parents carry the kid's backpacks
the parents carry the kids even though in America the kid would be big enough to ride a bike
4) these kids mostly seemed very well fed

The Chinese Expressway

Six minutes out of Jixian headed towards Tianjin, we encountered this toll booth. It seems that the truck in the only open lane (see the green arrow) was not allowed to pass through. As the driver started to back up, a car or two or three pulled in behind him preventing him from clearing the lane. The car drivers, seriously afflicted with the Chinese version of type A behavior, didn't want to lose their place in line and completely ignoring two police officers in bright yellow green safety vests who were trying to look official. Obviously the car driver's behavior prevented the truck driver from back up preventing all of us from passing through the toll booth. Is this the classic Chinese version of Catch 22 or what? After 10 minutes of driver stalemate with 50 cars now backed up on the express way, it finally dawned on one of the officers to open another toll booth lane.

Perhaps someone who knows more about Chinese culture than I, could explain the toll both log jam we experienced.

A few kilometers past the toll booth I saw a worker in bright orange jump suit sweeping the highway edge. OK. Then after another couple of kilometers, another sweeper. Then another. My gosh, this is how China keeps hundreds of kilometers of highway edge spotless. I guess when
you have 1.3 billion people, you have the man power to do it manually.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The 50 Pound Camera

So this is the gear for this trip, minus a few chargers that were being used during the photo session. The camera equipment weighs in at 30 pounds. The MacBook Pro with all of the paperwork, maps and support material weighs in at about 20 pounds. All of that is carry on.

So all of the camera gear goes into this pack which weighs 30 pounds. I could put the MacBook Pro in also, but in that space I carry a copy or two of my latest book to give out. Each copy weighs in at exactly 1 kilo (2.2 pounds).

The Great Vineyard Divide

While I was photographing the Changyu Disneyland castle from the vineyard as the sun set, one of the workers became very concerned that I was cold. (True to form for a macho Oregon guy, I was wearing shorts and a short sleeved shirt. It wasn't that cold.) The lady started to take off her coat to give me.

I could only say thank you (in Chinese) about three dozen times.

A few minutes later, one of my tripod legs slipped into a small hole. Immediately, the lady vineyard worker ran over with a flat stone to put under the wondering tripod leg.

Again, all I could say was thank you a dozen times.

After a few clicks of the shutter, I tried to ask if one of the buried pipes at the edge of the vineyard carried water. Since I only knew the Chinese word for water, complete communication was on the shy side. She, thinking that I wanted a drink of water, ran over to get her water bottle to give me.

Thank you. Thank you.

She did all of these kind acts with a huge smile. I was humbled in front of a truly kind human being.

As a vineyard worker, this generous woman earns 1200 Chinese RMB per month.
Houghton–my Hong Kong travel arranger and translator–and I spent 1900 RMB for just one night's lodging. We spend a third more for one night than the vineyard woman earns in a month.
(For those of you wondering, the current exchange rate is about US$1 = 6.8 Chinese RMB.)

Is it easier to see the great divide in a foreign country?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The "Disneyland" of Chinese Wineries

These are a few moments at Chateau Changyu AFIP (stands for America France Italy Portugal joint venture with China's Changyu winery) which is about an hour out of Beijing.

This is the Chinese version of a French Chateau castle. Inside is a working winery.

This is the "European village" seen from a castle turret.

Disneyland or what?

Couples get married in the "Village church" then have their photographs taken at the castle.

Inside the castle.

On the weekends, hords of Chinese tourist groups photograph their way through the cool cellar. Chinese tourists are photo fanatics. I watched one family take a name plate from the wall, give it to their one child to hold for a photograph. Then the wife held it for a photo and finally, the husband wouldn't be left out. Others were pulling out the bungs (the barrel corks) and holding the sparkling wine bottles in the riddling racks all for a photo. Digit moments. For some reason, if they are not content to just stand there, they flash the V sign.

Forbidden City, A New Meaning

These are just a few moments between The Forbidden City and Tian'an Men Square. With all of the problems I'm having with the government blocking my ability to Blog, Forbidden City brings on a whole new meaning. I need to write an entire blog on my reflections.

All of a Sudden Freedom

All of a sudden this morning, I can post again using the normal "get-around-the-block" methods.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Blocked in China

It's coming up to the 60th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Government October 1.

That's a big deal. Thousands of soldiers are practicing marching in Beijing. Hundreds of people in the town where I'm staying right now, not far from Beijing, are practicing marching while waving banner flags. There are security road blocks set up on the perimeter of Beijing. We were stopped at one last night. I worry how long the traffic lines will be because of the road blocks when I go back to Beijing in three days and again in a couple of weeks. All of the streets around the downtown Beijing hotel where I will be staying just before departure to US will be totally blocked off the day after I leave. I was told that those without a special pass will not be able to walk the streets around the hotel. I will allow 6 hours to get to the airport, a trip which normally takes 1 hour. I worry that will not be enough time.

So that's probably why I am blocked from posting to my blog directly. I was able to circumvent the block while in Beijing a few days ago. Now I am trying to figure out how to do that here in this town.

I emailed this message to my assistant, Tamarah to post. As soon as I can post directly, get ready for lots of material from this land of contrasts. Please check regularly as I'm working on the block instead of sleeping.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Will Culture handcuff Tongues?

A vineyard worker in Haras de Pirque vineyard, Maipo Valley, Chile.

On this China trip I really want to focus on the personal lives of vineyard workers.

To this point I’ve been very fortunate with interviewing workers in Canada, Spain, Italy, Chile and, of course, the United States. For my Oregon The Taste of Wine book, about two-thirds of the way through my very first interview, Dick Ponzi said, “I’m telling you things I’ve never told anyone before.” David Lett and son Jason had a father-son conversation they never had before during my recorded conversations with them. I attribute the openness to my drooling while I talk.

Will I have the same luck with workers being open here in China?

Two factors put up a wall:
First is cultural. Chinese Vineyard Worker’s roots grow in the soil of Mao Zedong’s stormy Cultural Revolution and a current government that likes to be in control. And here I am a foreigner.
Second is language. Even though my Spanish is just crude enough to give native speakers a good laugh, we all know what we are laughing about. In Chinese I can only count to a thousand and ask directions to the bathroom. I need an interpreter for everything else.

Any suggestions?

The following photographs–taken during my May trip–show vineyard workers in Shandong Province, China's premier wine region.

How cool are Photographers in China?

When I bowed and handed my regular business card for the first time last May to a Chinese winery manager, I immediately recognized my error. "Janis, you idiot." He couldn't read a single line. My business card was in English. He only read and spoke Chinese.

So I vowed to be more sophisticated for this trip. I translated my name and title–"Photographer"–into Chinese characters. I thought that was so cool while I was in the United States. Besides, in the US, most people think that photographers are nifty because they get to travel to China for their work.

But what is cool in the US might not be so here.

At 3:37 AM Beijing time during my first time-difference-sleepless night, it dawned on me that someone might place the title “photographer” into the same flashing-red-caution-light category as “Journalist”. As you probably have heard, "Journalists" often need to be escorted by government handlers. Journalists have been arrested here for writing the wrong thing.

Wake up call: I don’t want to be showing off my Chinese-version business card to everyone, especially government folks or the police. For the Chinese record, I’m not a “Journalist”. I am just a tourist who wants to learn about Chinese culture, people and wine industry. And yes, I like to take photographs.

Just to add spice to this discussion, my postings to this blog were blocked.

So what do you think? Should I show my Chinese-version card when I visit wineries owned by the Chinese-government companies?

China has Wineries?

When I tell people that I’m headed back to China to finish a book on Chinese Vineyards and Wineries, the common reaction is: “I didn’t even know that China had vineyards and wineries.” Well, yes they do. In fact, China has more vineyard acreage than the United States and produces more wine than Germany. Raise your hand proudly if you knew that.

And yes, I just landed in Beijing two hours ago to visit five vineyards and wineries in the northeast part of China. This blog will be about the adventures, people and culture I encounter. And judging from my first trip in May (see earlier listings on this blog site) we should have lots of fun. On that adventure, a Chinese winery and wine region even hired me. (That should look good on the ol’ resume.)

For those who don’t know me, I’m a Sherwood, Oregon-based, former National Geographic shooter turned commercial photographer who specializes in the wine industry, among other subjects. I’ve done two books about wineries, and the latest, Oregon The Taste of Wine, just won the prestigious Benjamin Franklin gold medal for the best Regional book in North America.

Haggard looking just after a Portland to Beijing flight–24 hours of no sleep–here I proudly hold my newly acquired Chinese driver's license. The officers gave me the driver's handbook after they issued the license.