Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sounds Overheard: Pingyao's Chaotic Streets

At dusk the 14th century Market Tower rises from cobblestone streets teeming with people in the Ancient City of Ping Yao in China's Shanxi Province in September.

 0:00 traditional instruments, 0:14 bamboo flute, 0:32 swarms of people, 0:40 fire crackers, 0:49 street vendor, 1:01 toy rubber chicken seller, 1:15 outdoor wok, 1:30 police cart, 1:43 live bar music

iPhone & iPad friendly link, or if you've received an email without audio player.

Considering only pedestrians and pedal powered bicycles are allowed into the central core of the ancient walled city of Pingyao, an amazing tapestry of sound is generated in this city of 50,000. Not ear shattering New York City jack hammer and subway loud. But just as enveloping ... shouting vendors, crackling fireworks, banging gongs, sizzling woks, bicycle bells, conversations soft and shouted. Here sounds are every where, sharpening your senses, your eyes noticing more detail, your nose discovering new flavors wafting on the air.

As shop lights twinkle on, a young couple thread Pingyao's narrow streets last month. 

 When the magic hour arrives at dusk, the sky goes from deep blue to black and the red cloth lanterns twinkle on in the restaurants and shops, there is no quiet spot within these stone walls built over 500 years ago.

 It's due to the hordes of Chinese and foreign tourists and businesses catering to them. So many visitors flock to what are considered among the best preserved city walls in the world - Pingyao is a UNESCO World Heritage Site - that rampart tourism and development are considered a major threat.

Costumed musician plays bamboo flute below the South Gate in the 6,000 meter stone wall that encircles Pingyao, which is about 450 miles West and a little South of Beijing.

Don't let the crowds discourage your visit, there's lots of room. What fun being a fly on the wall among the throng, people watching, recording sound and taking photographs. If those pursuits aren't enough entertainment, then a $5.00 foot massage lasts almost an hour. At a street side table a large bottle of warm beer is 75 cents and great dinner of stir fried pork and eggplant a few dollars more. The pandemonium becomes background music

I never experienced a quiet and calm Pingyao. I suspect there's an hour when the nightly hubbub dims as the shops and bars close and visitors stroll off to bed. Probably when the sky brightness early in the morning the streets are momentarily quiet as the city regains it's strength, soon to murmur back to life.

Preparing Mahua, a friend dough twist cooked in peanut oil, on the sidewalk of the Zhauji family shop.

During my assignments and travels I've been recording the sounds I overhear, and many don't have supporting photographs or stories. Well, today there's a short story and a few pictures. This occasional series will be my excuse to share my audio orphans, these Sounds Overheard

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Billions Of Chinese Phones Love Big Nose

On my September trip to China it seemed to me a large percentage of the country's 1.2 billion people were talking on their mobile phones, sending texts or surfing the internet. I saw the phones in the hands of parents commuting through traffic with children hanging off their electric scooters. In the country side I noted farmers chatting. While zooming at 200 Km per hour on a high speed train, fingers flew playing internet games. 

While wearing rented 17th century costumes boyfriend snaps mobile phone photos of girlfriend in Beijing's Forbidden City last month.

And the Chinese were snapping photos with their phones of everybody and everything. In the park with grandma and grandpa, tourists dressed in Qin dynasty costumes, pictures of photographs hanging at photography festivals. Even pictures of photographers standing in front of their photographs at photography festivals.

A recent report claimed that among the 1,200,000 citizens of China, there were 1,104,000 mobile phone users. Gee that seems high, even noting that maybe people have multiple handsets or SIM cards. But come to think about it, though, as a Westerner I must of had a cel phone camera pointed at me nearly a billion times.

While baby sleeps mother stays connected with smart phone while visiting the Longman Caves in Luoyang, Henan Province, China.

Every day, often multiple times an hour, while walking down the street I would catch several faces smiling at me, with one of their party trotting up to me for a photo. Smile, "ha ha ha ha" and thank you in English and Chinese. Then the shooter and the subject would change places, others would see the activity, waiting their turn to be photographed with the "Dabizi".

I learned to pronounce it "Dah - be - zerrr", "big nose" or "long nose", the Chinese description for foreigners. I figured that described me pretty well, so I embraced the term.

In September street performer sings for tips at night market while baby-toting mom (right) photographs the Big Nose, Kaifang, Henan Province, China.

 One afternoon I was completely pooped from walking in an amusement park for hours in the heat and humidity, so I bought a cold bottle of juice and was leaning on a tree while the multitude surged around me. I felt a gentle nudge on my back, and turning, discovered a teen age girl sneaking close to have her picture taken with the visiting Big Nose. She was to shy to talk to me, so I turned around and gave her camera phone toting boyfriend a big grin.

Last month young woman commuting home on electric scooter pauses to text, Anyan, Henan Province, China.

OK the headline at top is a bit of hyperbole, a billion Chinese weren't really shooting my picture, nor a million, and I doubt if no more than a bunch of dozen zoomed in on me. But I had fun meeting so many Chinese who were friendly and genuinely curious about a Big Nose.