A day in the Blue

My friend Frederick Johnson (frederickvan.com, @frederickvan on Twitter, and regular on the This Week in Photography podcast; aka TWiP), arranges local photowalks regularly, and Sunday I went along for the photowalk on Treasure Island. I’m not one for wandering around snapping random photos, so I proposed the idea of an “assignment” that we could each follow, to give us some kind of goal. And it’s always clever to force yourself out of your regular comfort zone of photography anyway. We decided the theme would be color, scratched down a series of hues on little scraps paper and drew them out of my knit hat. We chose Red, Yellow, Brown, Blue (but no sky or water allowed), and Black and White (both on the same ticket). We chose to leave out Green, as it would be entirely too obvious. I drew last and got Blue, which turned out to be surprisingly plentiful on the island. Although I think I’ve fulfilled my pain-chip-photo quota for the year!


Rusty Nuts

Having an objective really made it more interesting for me, and I think the rest of the guys agreed. And again it’s always fun to step out of your “normal” area of practice, to see what you can come up with. Here are the respective galleries:

I’m sure I’ll be on another one soon. Being the competitive types, I think next time we’ll put money on it and open it up to blind criticism. Fun! ;-)

San Francisco Twilight Criterium

Saturday night I shot the San Francisco Twilight Criterium, a bike race in the city that went from 5pm to after 9pm. The first run was Men’s Amateurs, followed by a Children’s “race”, then the Women’s Pro and finally Men’s Pro. Shooting a bike race at night certainly has its challenges, beyond the obvious “it’s dark out there!”. There were flood lights around the course, providing hot-spots of light at each turn and about mid-way down each straight. However the lights were pointed at the riders’ backs, so as not to blind them of course—but which happens to be very inconvenient for photography!

The gallery has a TON of photos posted; these are all available for the riders so basically anything that’s in focus went online. I like the idea that in some photos, the only face in focus in the middle of a big pack is “Bob”, and when “Bob” finds that photo, he’ll be able to show it off as if the image is all about him. Which of course, it is ;-)

Just one of my favorites from each segment here (I’m obviously keen on the dynamic blurred action shots), and the full 820 (out of 2687 shot—yeah, there’s a lot of throw-away in a shoot like this!) are all on the gallery.

Men's Professional, San Francisco Twilight Criterium 2008

Women's Professional, San Francisco Twilight Criterium 2008





Men's Amateur, San Francisco Twilight Criterium 2008


Men's Pro Winner, San Francisco Twilight Criterium 2008



Visit the Gallery for this post

Olympic Village at Night

Visit the Public Gallery for this post

One slow night in the MPC, I took a Nikon D3 out for a little test-run. The camera performed admirably, although the meter is completely bonkers in low light. I had to shoot manual and under-expose (per the meter) every shot by 1–2 stops, and then tweak the heck out of the RAW files in Aperture. I've never chimped that much in my life. However it performed better in daylight; those images will get here soon(ish).

Olympic Village at night

Anyway the Village at night is gorgeous. It's pretty clear that both landmark venues, the "Bird's Nest" and the "Water Cube", were designed to look amazing at night. I wasn't very impressed with either of them during the day, but to be fair they grew on me. However in total disclosure, when I first arrived in Beijing, I compared the National Stadium (the Bird's Nest) to the Brussels 1958 World Fair's Atomium and its surrounding structures (1958—2008; 50 year anniversary… coincidence? You be the judge!). Not because of it's shape, but because of its hideousness against the grey sky. In Belgium, you have a pretty much guaranteed grey sky most days. Same in Beijing. I'd think that if you were going to build something that large in a city that's mostly grey during the day, you'd find a way to make it stand out. The brushed steel nest against the grey sky does not a pretty picture make.

1958 Brussels World's Fair, taken 1998 1958 Brussels World's Fair, taken 1998

Site of the 1958 Brussels World's Fair, taken in 1998 on a Kodak DC210 (!)

However again at night, this place really shines. And because of the heat, many events went well after dark, and most guests didn't leave the Village in a rush—there were thousands of people enjoying the warm night, the beautiful lights, the music and the water features late, late into the night.

Here are a few images; there are more in the gallery.

"One World, One Dream"… just not for YOU! (*ahem*)

Olympic Village at night

Olympic Village at night

Olympic Village at night

Olympic Village at night

Olympic Village at night

Where journalism come from

Visit the Public Gallery for this post

Pretty much all the news you've watched, read, or looked at from the Olympics comes out of two buildings here… the IBC (International Broadcast Center) and MPC (Main Press Center). Every video feed from every venue around the city is being fed simultaneously, in real-time, into the IBC where the various networks from around the world have set up camp. They all have access to the same feeds, and cut and edit at-will. Meanwhile the MPC is for the photographers and journalists. There are huge rooms set up with hundreds of computers, as well as laptop stations for those carrying their own. They all have high speed internet, so the journalists can edit their photos, write their stories, and get it all out to their respective publications. Larger organizations, like the AP or USA Today, have their own dedicated rooms spread throughout the multi-story building.

The MPC is practically a small city. There's a large, international cafeteria along with a McDonald's and McCafé, a general store, a gift shop, copy shop, UPS Express shipping center, and more. Kodak provides printing services (along with film developing services for anyone shooting film… yes, it happens!), and both Nikon and Canon are loaning gear by the metric ton.

Here's a few photos from around the MPC so you can see, during the Olympics, where journalism comes from. These are made during a quiet time; after a big match the place would be packed to the brim.

The main hall in the MPC.

The main hall in the MPC.

Nikon (and Canon) are loaning gear to the photographers.

Nikon (and Canon) are loaning gear to the photographers.

Several rooms like these are open for anyone with a laptop to plug in and work.

Several rooms like these are open for anyone with a laptop to plug in and work.

Panasonic put a massive plasma TV in the lobby.

Panasonic put a massive plasma TV in the lobby.

100"? I dunno but it's bigger than mine!

The general store, for everything from aspirin to zip ties, and the oft-needed beer!

The general store, for everything from aspirin to zip ties, and the oft-needed beer!

A map of the MPC. See, it's big!

A map of the MPC. See, it's big!

The UPS Express store.

The UPS Express store.

McCafé, the only place for a drinkable latte (sold as a 'flat white', surprisingly enough)

McCafé, the only place for a drinkable latte (sold as a 'flat white', surprisingly enough)

McDonald's. 'Nuff said.

McDonald's. 'Nuff said.

The big international food cafeteria. Some decent food to be had here.

The big international food cafeteria. Some decent food to be had here.

And the cafeteria seating. As you can see… room for a LOT of people.

And the cafeteria seating. As you can see… room for a LOT of people.

A Bug Lunch

Visit the Public Gallery for this post Visit the Private Gallery for this post (login required)

For those that follow the twitter, you know I did something slightly… unusual yesterday. I ate a few things that you don't normally find on western menus. Things you don't normally consider eating. Things if seen in the wild, you'd probably run away screaming like a little girl.

I ate snake.

I ate centipede.

And the pièce de résistance… I ate scorpion.

Eating scorpion

But let me back up and take you on a tour of the great, famous, Donghuamen Market in Beijing (also seen written as the DongHuaMen Night Market, although it's open during the day).

Breaking tradition, I can't resist posting this movie on here. When we walked into the market, we immediately ran into a TV crew from Curaçao, traveling with Shawn Crawford, winner of the 200m Silver, who were trying to talk themselves into eating something bizarre. They finally settled on the snake (tame enough), but when I ordered a centipede, they couldn't resist getting in on the action. With cameras rolling, the host bit into his snake while I gnawed on the centipede. We traded sticks, and sampled each-others snacks. As you can see in this video, snake and centipede are not high on the yummy list in the islands!! You'll also see the devastation of one crispy scorpion. Delicious!

The video is also on my MobileMe gallery.

My dining experience even merited a comment on Vincent Laforet's Newsweek.com blog! LOL…

Day 14 - A Day of Firsts on newsweek.com

This is where to find the Donghaumen Market. On Google it's listed as Dong'anmen St., but I'll stick with the spelling on the sign I photographed there.

View Larger Map

This market is amazing, selling pretty much everything you would ever think not to eat. They sell starfish, centipede, grub, scorpion, snake, all kinds of internal organs, and — wait for it — sheep penis. No, I did not put that in my mouth.

Pictures speak louder than words. Check it out…

Centipede at the Donghuamen market


Grubs at the Donghuamen market



Selection of scorpions (I ate the smaller ones, thank you!)


Scorpion already fried and ready to be reheated


Soft shelled crab


Soft shelled crab cooking

Sheep penis

Yep… there it is. Sheep penis.

Of course the market doesn't just sell the bizarre. It also had a great selection of fruits, vegetables, noodles, and different meats. Not that I'd eat any of that crap.

Little boy eating corn

Little boy eating corn

Old woman eating noodles

Old woman eating noodles

What an experience. Even if you don't have the cojones to eat any of these delicacies yourself, no trip to Beijing would be complete without this bizarre experience. You gotta go!

In fact… I'm rating this "restaurant" with 5 feet… because damnit, it rocks!!

The Donghuamen market in Beijing

Olympic Village Visitors

  Visit the Public Gallery for this post

Surrounding the parade was of course thousands and thousands of spectators. I've taken up a new sport here in Beijing; photographing people posting for someone else's photos. No one minds having their photo taken, and in fact as a white westerner I've been asked to pose for countless photos—or even more often, spotted a camera slyly pointed in my direction! Parents are thrilled to have their children photographed, and every camera is met with a smile and a wave. I prefer the moments before they know I'm shooting, so that's what you'll see here (and many more in the gallery).

Little girl watching the festivities

Spectators posing in front of the National Stadium

Of course it's not just the Chinese that are filling the park. I've seen people from so many nations, it really is a wonderful, beautiful site. The Olympics is every country at war and in love at the same time.

We're all competing viciously for those top three awards in every category, yet the friendship and camaraderie between nations and people is overflowing. (I joked at one point in a basketball game of USA v. Korea that there were clearly more Koreans than Americans in the audience by sheer volume of cheering, but the truth is that even the Koreans were cheering the Americans when they'd score. It was wonderful).

A Finnish supporter

The Fuwa on t-shirts

Olympic Security force on the way to work

Olympic Village

Visit the Public Gallery for this post

It took several days, but I finally found the time to walk through the Olympic Village. Funny, since I'm working there, but we've been busy and by the end of a shift, we're all exhausted, so it took a little extra encouragement to walk the length of it—which came in the form of a colorful parade pounding down the main street! Seemingly out of nowhere, this huge cavalcade of electrically colored dancers moved through the throngs of people, smiling and celebrating all the way.


While there's probably relevance to every costume on show, the most recognizable were the costumes following the dress of the "Fuwa". These are the Olympic mascots, each representing a variety of elements, symbolisms, personalities and more including each color of the Olympic ring. (See the wiki link for a detailed explanation).

You can see in these photos the blue ones (water/prosperity/aquatic sports) and red (fire/Olympic flame/passion/ball sports). Apparently the artist Han Meilin has disowned the Fuwa, which is not the first I've heard of this. I also was told that the designer of the "birds nest" stadium has disowned it. Interesting what happens when art and the politics of a communist government controlled message collide.

Bèibei Fuwa costume

Jīngjing Fuwa costume

Huānhuan Fuwa costume

Politics aside, the parade, colors and people were beautiful.

Forbidden City

Visit the Public Gallery for this post Visit the Private Gallery for this post (login required)

No visit to Beijing is complete without a walk through the Forbidden City, and so of course I went. Like Tian'anmen Square the other day, it was packed with tourists, and I have no idea if this is normal or not. Apparently much of it has been repainted for the Olympics, looking as good as new. It's a beautiful place full of beautiful faces, all eager to soak up such a prominent piece of Chinese history.

Forbidden City

Man with a can approaching Forbidden City

There's not much to tell here except that being short on time, we walked QUICKLY from one end of the city to the other, and that took us over an hour. You could easily spend an entire day there and not see everything it has to offer. If I have time I may go back, but that's not looking likely.

Guarding the gates at the Forbidden City

A river runs through it

Shopping at the Silk Market

Visit the Public Gallery for this post Visit the Private Gallery for this post (login required)

There's a shopping experience in Beijing that has to be seen to be believed, and it's called the Silk Market. It's a five story shopping extravaganza, located above the Yong'anli subway stop. Calling it insane is like calling Kim Jong-il maladjusted. There are hundreds of shops packed tightly together, each floor selling a different variety of goods, and each shop selling virtually the same thing. The only differentiator is often the aggressiveness of the sales people! I was dragged into some shops (literally), complemented like crazy ("oh handsome man, you want new shoes?!"), and made friends everywhere ("normal price 400, but for you, special price my friend, only 300"). Awww wasn't that sweet?


Truth is, you have to haggle and bargain like crazy. In reading other people's blog posts…

…some claim you can buy at 1/3 asking price, some claim 1/6 asking price. I don't recall the best deal I got, but believe me—walking out of the store without buying is a great way to get a great price!


I won't list all the things I bought as many are gifts and I'd hate to ruin the surprise, but believe me when I say that if you can handle the harassment and are up to the haggling, it's a great place for an exhausting afternoon of shopping.

Tian'anmen Square Flag Lowering Ceremony

Visit the Public Gallery for this post Visit the Private Gallery for this post (login required)

Once I'd checked into the hotel — a task preceded by a bag x-ray and body-wanding at the hotel entrance, and a 20 minute search for my reservation — I headed over to the Olympic Village's MPC (Main Press Center) to see where I'd be working the next 10 days, get my bearings and say hello to my colleagues. From there I headed by metro to Tiananmen Square, figuring I'd take advantage of the setting sun and one of the purportedly only blue-sky days since the start of the Olympics.

Stepping out of the Tian'anmen East metro station (free subway use for accredited Olympic attendee's, by the way), I walked into a solid wall of people. After a bit of jostling I finally found an official (Police? Crossing Guard? Paramilitary trooper? Who can tell, the uniforms ALL look so military) to tell me what was going on. Everyone had gathered for the Flag Lowering ceremony, at sunset. Tian'anmen Square is, by the way, the largest open urban-square in the world. So if this place is packed, you can only imagine how many people were there. I don't know if it's always like this or if the crowd was due to the Olympics, but WOW there were a lot of people there.

Girl watching flag lowering ceremony

Photographing a flag being lowered down a flag pole from a quarter-mile away didn't make for an interesting photo, and there was no way I'd get to the front to actually see the guards doing the lowering, so I spent my time…

…shooting people watching the ceremony. There were tons of kids, so I'm really guessing that this is an unusual crowd — that this many people are in town just for the Olympics, even from all over China. Of course not all the kids were thrilled to have been dragged there!

Not everyone was happy to be there

I wasn't sure if it was permissable to photograph the guards, but once I saw all the locals shoving cameras in the soldiers' faces, I joined in.


Once the sun went down, the entire place lit up like a Christmas tree. This is the Tian'anmen Gate, the entrance to the Forbidden City.


Visit the Public Gallery for this post Visit the Private Gallery for this post (login required)