I did a little walking around Beijing today. During the day, the smog is astounding. China has made some truly impressive efforts to reduce pollution and energy consumption, and the message is constantly hammered home by the media: use less energy and water, live in harmony with the environment, use public transit. However, the fact remains that there are just too many people here, and despite the fact that each person uses far less than we do in North America, the cumulative effect of so many crammed into such a small space is catastrophic to air quality. Anyway, as it pertains to me, it’s hard to take photos during the day, because everything more than 50 feet from you is shrouded in a hazy white veil.
Tonight after a delicious and artfully prepared meal at a restaurant down the street (sorry, I wasn’t expecting it to be so good, so no photos), I went out to see what I could shoot. I decided to hop on the subway and try to get myself over to the Olympic park to have some fun with all those celebrity buildings, like the National Stadium. I’m truly amazed at the changes to the subway system in the last two years. When I was here in 2007, I had to battle a crowd to get to this little cage containing a woman selling paper tickets. You then had to battle a crowd to get to a guy who would punch a hole in the ticket and let you down the stairs to the trains. There were four very limited subway lines open, covering a small part of the city. That’s all changed. Now, you buy your re-usable plastic subway tickets from a bank of bilingual touch-screen terminals, and pass through automated gates to get to the trains. There are nine lines now, with 147 stations all over the city. The cost has also changed. Instead of three to five Yuan (about 50-80 cents) that it cost in 2007, it’s now 2 Yuan (about 36 cents) to ride anywhere this massive system goes. According to Wikipedia, the system is still under massive expansion, with plans to double its current size by 2012. This is why I’m baffled that Toronto can’t build proper public transit to Pearson airport. It’s all about priorities.
So, I rode the subway for quite a long time, transferring a couple of times to get to Olympic park. It took about an hour to get there because it’s pretty far, and I kept missing my connecting trains. By the time I arrived at the Olympic park station, it was about 9:35pm. I was surprised to discover that the Olympic park closes at 9:30pm, so I was just in time to see the security guards let the last people out, and slam the gate shut. Also, it started raining.
I chalked it up to experience, and comforted myself in that I’d at least figured out where the airport express subway line started, and headed back to the hostel. When I came out of the subway, the rain had pretty much stopped. The reflections of the buildings in the wet pavement made me feel like doing some long exposures. Earlier in the night, I’d been shooting this old church that was sandwiched between a giant hotel and a mega-ultra-modern department store in the busy Wangfujing shopping area. It looked amazing reflected in the wet pavement.
Just as I was getting into shooting this, and finding some interesting angles, someone abruptly turned out all the lights on the building. It took a moment for me to realize how awesome this was. I truly believe that to get great night shots, you have to shoot what seems impossible to shoot. There are so many photographers who can easily recognize the photographic potential of brightly lit night scenes, and will get out the tripod to take some very ordinary shots. However, I want to make it my mission to capture those rarest of photons, because the fewer there are, the more potential they have to make night photos that really shine. After the lights went out, those remarkable photons were reflecting off of the moving clouds, creating a surreal backdrop. The sparse light from the shops across the street provided ample fill for the building itself, even though the scene at the time looked almost totally dark.
I only have one more night left here in China before I head over to Thailand. In some ways, this trip has seemed to have flown by so fast. In other ways, I feel like I’ve been here a lifetime. In either case, I’ve done my best to make it memorable.