Archives for posts with tag: China

Shanghai is a city of endless fascinations for me. I was transfixed, even before the plane touched down – staring out at the strange landscape below me.
IMG_8819The only real free time I had was on my first day there. Still exhausted after the long trip, I took a short walk down to the river, taking in the immensely tall skyscrapers, the brown river dividing Pudong from Puxi, the Oriental Pearl Tower and sunset beyond the Bund.IMG_8909 Version 2 IMG_8980

The following picture gives an idea of the immense size of the city. Shanghai is like a forest, except the trees are made of concrete. It’s a city in need of more public parks and open spaces. It seems every spare metre of ground has been developed into a tall building or skyscraper.
IMG_9160On my last day there, as the sun was setting, I took this photo of the Jin Mao Tower.


In this sometimes stressful year, I often let my eyes do the talking for me. Here are some of my favourite photos from 2014. I hope you like them. Click on any of them to get a better view.

1. Storm Clouds

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January of 2014 was incredibly stormy, with high winds lashing the coast at least once a week. One compensation was the wonderful cloudscapes such as this one above, taken in Garryvoe, Co. Cork.

2.  Shanghai Surprise

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2014 was the Chinese New Year of the Horse. On my first ever trip to China in February I came across this wonderful display in the city of Shanghai.

3. The Long Walk

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The annual 19km Ballycotton Cliff Walk is one of my favourite hikes, as it marks the approach of spring and the end of winter. This photo was taken on March 16th.

 4. Garnish Island

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The wonderful gardens of Garnish Island in West Cork are full of surprises. This photo, from April, was perhaps early in the year for full bloom, but the flowers of spring always have a special place in my heart.

5. Rhododendron Blooms


John F. Kennedy Park in Co. Wexford holds plenty of surprises too. During our visit in April I came across this wonderful display as a rhododendron bush shed its flowers.

6. Barley Fields

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A quick walk up the hill gives me a wonderful view over south Munster, from the Celtic Sea all the way to the Knockmealdowns, the Comeraghs and even the Galtees in the far distance.

7. Leaping Laddies

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By July, we had finally accepted that this was going to be one of the great summers. That’s worth jumping around for.

8. Summer Bees

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Bumblebees were everywhere this year. They go about their business with no real interest in us – focused on one thing only: nectar. When they have too much, they fall asleep, putting up a leg if you come too close. Mad about them, I am.

9. Coco the Cat

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Well, the Internet is all about cat photos, right? Right?

10. Glounthane Sunrise

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With the nights lengthening in October, I caught this morning sunrise in Glounthane, Co. Cork.

11. Ha’penny Bridge

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I took this during a day trip to Dublin in October. It captures many of its iconic structures quite well, I think.

12. Belvelly Castle

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I won’t forget the 26th of November too quickly. I had taken a few days off work and I rose early to discover a fog-shrouded landscape. What followed were some of my favourite photographs of the year. This one was taken from Belvelly Bridge near Fota Island.

13. Midleton Estuary

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After Cobh, I drove to Midleton, where I came across this scene. My parents had a painting at home that reminds me of this photo.

14. Castlemartyr Resort

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Then on to Castlemartyr Resort, where I took this photo as the sun was rising. Sometimes, you are just in the right place at the right time.

15. Little Spider

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After buying a macro lens for my iPhone in late November, I came across this little fellow climbing around a dandelion clock.

16. Dawn by the Lee

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This photo is from the 16th of December, taken during my morning commute. Though the sun had not yet risen, I just had to stop my car and start snapping.

17. Running Along

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I took this photo on Garryvoe beach just yesterday. It’s like the boys are running from a nuclear explosion.

18. Ballycotton Island

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Taken just this morning, this photo again saw me leaping out of my car. The sun was perfectly positioned over Ballycotton Island. Just glorious.

If any of you are interested, I post regularly to Instagram, and less often to Flickr. Maybe I’ll see you there.

I’m staying right beside the Shanghai Tower, which is frighteningly high, believe me. It’s 650 metres tall – the second highest skyscraper in the world. You get a crick in your neck just looking up at it.

This video was just posted on the Internet by two Russian guys who climbed to the top. Then, as if that wasn’t terrifying enough, clambered out to the end of the crane at its apex. Health and Safety folks around the world would get sick just thinking about it.

If you have the stomach to watch the video, did you see the skyscraper far below it? The one that looks like a bottle opener? That’s the Shanghai World Financial Centre, “only” the sixth tallest skyscraper in the world. I’m staying on the 83rd floor and as the photos from my window will testify, it’s already pretty high.

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The trip to Shanghai comes to an end tomorrow. It’s been a wonderful experience and very different to how I expected it might be. I’m craving to see more of the country from this one whistlestop visit.

Don’t worry – there is no “Day 3” post. Yesterday was not eventful for me. Just work, a nondescript meal at a restaurant near the hotel and then bed.

I woke early and made my way across the Huangpu river to The Bund, the old financial area of Shanghai. Barges ploughed their way past the skyscrapers of Pudong as kites floated silently in the air. The morning was misty and dull, but not too cold.

I then walked up to Nanjing Road, one of Shanghai’s biggest shopping areas. From what I hear it’s usually crowded with people, but this morning only a few brave souls walked the street. Having watched some elderly people practice T’ai Chi, I flagged a taxi back to the hotel.

Our meal this evening was hot-pot. Each diner is given a pot of water and vegetables, then presented with small portions of meat, mushrooms, noodles, prawns and fish cakes to cook and eat. It was delicious and a lot of fun. We then walked to a local market with small alleyways and lots of interesting, good quality items on sale. Shanghai is an expensive city, although I suspect some local knowledge would come in handy in this city.


Some other things I took in: taxi passenger doors only open on the right-hand side, so it’s always a case of first-in, last out when getting in the back. The driving isn’t great – we’ve had more than one close shave over the last few days. None of the drivers know English, so a card with the destination address in Chinese is an ideal accessory when travelling.

I’m learning a small amount of Mandarin Chinese. Yes and No sound a bit rude to Anglophones, so I should have no problem remembering them. Other than that, it’s a very difficult language to learn. The way you say something is at least as important as what you say.

And, no, I’m not improving with my chopstick prowess. It gets worse when anyone is looking at me, and worse still if they start commenting about how bad I am.

It snowed today, a rare event for a city that shares the same latitude as Jerusalem and Austin.

I took a short time-lapse video this morning with the sun poking through the clouds; the light playing games with the February dullness.

This evening, we ate in the Langyifang Restaurant. It’s situated in a gigantic modern mall close to the hotels. We sampled a large mix of local foods, mostly similar to what might be found back home.

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My impression of the city so far is much less of a culture shock than I would have expected. Shanghai is brash, modern and unquestionably upmarket. Most items on display cost the same as what might be paid in Europe. Many of the big brands are here, including Haagen Dazs, KFC and TGI Fridays. Clearly, if we want an authentic Chinese experience, we are in the wrong place.

One of my colleagues, an American, has mastered Mandarin Chinese, both oral and written. My Chinese colleagues tell me it is word perfect without much of a trace of an accent. Knowing how to read the Chinese characters is especially impressive, as this is a much bigger challenge for Chinese children compared to western kids. Mastery involves familiarity with several thousand symbols, many of which vary in meaning depending on the context in which they are written. On top of being masters in Chinese, many of my colleges speak English perfectly. Truly, I feel humbled here.

This morning I arrived in Shanghai – by some reckonings the world’s largest city. My travels began early the previous morning, with dangerous gusts around Cork Airport making hard work of our take-off.  After a short stop-over in Heathrow, a Boeing 777 took us across the Russian Steppes and Mongolia, touching down in Shanghai at 9.30 am Sunday morning. It’s my first time in China and only one of my first times in Asia proper.

Flying in, the area under the flight path reminded me of the Netherlands, with its cloudy weather, reclaimed land, wind turbines and man-made canals. It’s all brand new, with many roads, bridges and buildings under construction. The airport is shiny and enormous – the terminal building itself seems to stretch to infinity in both directions. A motorway brings you straight into the city centre and driving in you get an appreciation of the huge number of people living in Shanghai. Large apartment blocks cover the landscape as far as the eye can see. It’s an impressive sight.

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A number of huge skyscrapers dominate the cityscape, the largest of which, the Shanghai Tower, is being built at the moment. It will top out at 630 metres, making it the second tallest skyscraper in the world. Construction is due to complete in 2015.

After a brief rest in the hotel, we took a taxi to Yuyuan Bazaar and Gardens. The garden itself is delightful – full of nooks and crannies, steps going nowhere and tiny footbridges. The pools are full of colourful koi carp. A pity it’s too early to see the trees in blossom.

The bazaar was a bombardment of sounds, smells and sights. Everywhere there were people – lots of families and children. Despite the fact that we didn’t have a clue where we were or what we were doing, somehow we managed to visit the Temple of the City Gods, do some tea-tasting and see the lanterns light up as the Chinese New Year ceremonies come to a close. We even got our photos taken by some teenagers, clearly impressed to have come across quaint looking foreigners.

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When I was younger I used to get very confused about how, if you were travelling to San Francisco from Ireland that you need to travel over Greenland and the cold wastes of Northern Canada to get there. Hold on, isn’t San Francisco to the south of Ireland? So why the hell do planes need to fly north to get there? It didn’t make much sense to me.

What I didn’t fully appreciate at the time was that spherical geometry is very different to planar geometry, and the fastest way to get from one location on the planet to another is a great circle – a ring around the centre of the earth connecting both points. Great circles do not care about arbitrary definitions such as North and West, only the shortest distance between two points, and if that line crosses over the North Pole, so be it.

Anyway, a few years ago I came across a mapping program on the Web called the Online Map Creator. The program produces maps of many different shapes and sizes in multiple projections. The one that captured my imagination however was Azimuthal Equidistant Projection. If you imagine drawing ever increasing circles around a chosen location on the planet you will get the idea. Consider, for instance, where you are right now. The 10 km circle represents all locations 10 km away, the 1000 km circle represents all places 1000 km away, and so on until you can’t go any further, i.e. the other side of the planet, about 20,000 km away from you. Each point on each circle represents objects that you would come across if you were able to point a telescope at a particular compass angle and see everything on the surface of the globe in that direction. It’s the route an airplane would take, if it didn’t need to worry about atmospheric currents and headwinds etc. Areas tend to get more distorted the further away you go. The extreme is other side of the world from you. No matter which direction you go, you will end up at that point eventually, so every point on the edge of the circle is actually the exact same location on the far side of the planet.

Here are a few maps I made using the map generator.

1) London, England.

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Notice that if you start out due west from London, you will end up, not in Canada, but flying across Cuba and Mexico. To get to Japan, you need to travel across the Arctic Ocean and northern Siberia. Also note how huge Antarctica and Australia are compared to everywhere else, and if you look closely you will see an enormous narrow island taking up nearly 70 degrees from North to East – that land is New Zealand, on almost exactly the opposite side of the world to the UK.

2) Chicago Illinois

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This map shows that if you wish to travel from Chicago to Thailand, you need to cross over the North Pole, even though Thailand is close to the equator. It also indicates a considerably northerly path for Japan and China. To travel to Mozambique in southern Africa, you need to set out due East. Australia and Antarctica are enormous, again because they are furthermost from Chicago.

3) Sydney, Australia.

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Look at how West Africa is distorted! West Africa is now gigantic compared to the rest of that continent, again owing to the fact that it is nearly on the other side of the world. The Iberian peninsula is similarly disfigured. To reach Chile, you need to travel South East, and traveling to parts of eastern Brazil requires a southern journey over the Antarctic ice cap.

4) Beijing, China

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This is an interesting map. Most of the globe is recognisable and relatively well proportioned (OK Africa is a bit oversized, but we will ignore this). But look at South America! If you look closely, there is a ring of yellow encircling this map. Clearly the furthest point away from Beijing is in Argentina and as a result the mapping severely distorts the continent, The black lines are a bug that I can’t quite explain. In addition Hawaii looks a lot bigger than it should look, given it’s distance from China. I have a feeling that more gremlins are at work here.

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