Archive | January, 2012

Lions and dragons and giant cameras, oh my!: Chinese New Year in London

31 Jan

On Sunday Stephen and I decided it would be a good idea to check out the Chinese New Year parade, because getting off the Tube at Piccadilly Circus is always a “good idea” on a weekend, or any day really. We were quickly reminded why we spend most weekends at home watching the obscene amount of blu-rays we bought in the states instead of standing outside in the cold being bumped by tourists with large cameras who think that somehow gives them the right to push through crowds. The parade was relatively entertaining, mostly because they had people representing every Chinese zodiac animal walking around in inflatable suits. It reminded me of Air Willie’s wild antics that made Northwestern football games tolerable (no offense to my alma mater, I’m insulting football in general here).

What surprised me was the abnormal amount of white people and other ethnicities in the parade. Most cultural events have your token white person, but this was almost enough to make me feel like I wasn’t getting the full Chinese New Year experience, like when you have a Mexican chef at Benihana. Sure, his onion volcano is top-notch, but it doesn’t feel like the authentic Japanese hibachi experience you expect in a strip mall. The crowd watching the parade was mostly non-Asian, consisting mainly of fathers hoisting their children on their shoulders ensuring no one behind them could see even the special Chinese New Year double decker bus, and people with giant cameras. I’m not talking your basic DSLR or mega-zoom like I have, these were some serious “Get out of my way, I’m a PHOTOGRAPHER!” cameras with equally “MOVEEEE I’m important!” telephoto lenses. I can’t tell you how many times the parade actually came to a halt when it was time to turn the corner because too many people and their giant cameras were standing in the street taking pictures of the dragon dance (not to be confused with the lion dance, more on that shortly). I have a hard time believing all of those people were from reputable news sources assigned to document the parade. I stood behind one guy who had a full blown monitor attached to the top of his camera. I’m happy to report that his photos were still crappy.

When the parade was over everyone processed to Trafalgar Square for more festivities. By “process” I mean we were engulfed into the crowd and together slunk to the square like a giant amoeba pushing out its cytoplasm and slinking along. We were not happy.

“I immediately regret this decision!” I said out loud, imitating Will Farrell’s character from Anchorman.

We arrived at Trafalgar Square only to realize the festivities weren’t starting for another hour. We were not going to stand in the cold in the crowd for another hour only to continue standing in the cold in the crowd while the mayor and ambassador spoke and performers sang and danced. We decided to bail and walked against the motion of the giant amoeba crowd back into Chinatown for some lunch. Many places were closed because it was still before noon, but we found a delightfully overpriced dim sum place. Since we were only a party of two, and even in London Chinatown the Chinese despise people who dine in groups less than six, they sat us at a table in the middle of the central walkway of the restaurant, so everyone and every dish had to pass by us. We tried in vain to change tables, but decided we were too cold and hungry to care that much. So we ate our overpriced dim sum and duck in the direct path of every waiter. It turns out we were also in the direct path of something else. …DUN DUN DUN.

Halfway through our meal we saw someone hang a giant bunch of lettuce above the restaurant’s doorway. I asked Stephen what it was for.

“The lion,” he replied, then he thought about it for a second. “Oh crap, I bet they’re going to come inside,” he said. It took me a while to realize what he was talking about. I then remembered my years of watching my friends perform in Northwestern’s Chinese New Year celebration, and photographing the lion dance for my photojournalism project. The lion dance is an integral part of Chinese New Year and is often confused with the dragon dance because all white people (myself included) think the lion looks like a dragon. Here are photos to clarify:

This is a lion dance costume. The dancer is hidden by the giant lion face which looks like a dragon.

This is a dragon dance. The dancers hold the dragon by sticks.

Sure enough the wait staff started freaking out and frantically moving tables around, as if the lion doesn’t come every single Chinese New Year. We could hear the steady pounding of a drum drawing closer as the restaurant owner shoved our table to the side. We then stood there awkwardly as the lion dance troupe processed through.

Here you see the restaurant owner freaking out and Stephen's arm standing awkwardly in the path of the lion.

Here is an example of a woman with a camera that seems way too large and professional.

And here are some more photos of the lion dance moving through the restaurant and almost bumping into us multiple times:

Unfortunately I did not get any photos or video of the lion eating the lettuce because there were people in the way and I didn’t want to put my coat on to go outside, but imagine a person inside of a lion costume (that looks like a dragon) grabbing the lettuce, grinding it up, and throwing it out the lion’s mouth to the delight of children gathered around. You can then also imagine pieces of lettuce sticking to the bottom of your shoes as you exit the restaurant.

Overall it was a neat experience but I don’t know if we’ll be going again next year. I like to avoid crowded situations that turn me into Eric Cartman.

My neti pot review, or “In One Nostril and Out the Other”

23 Jan

I’ve had a cold for the past few days and have mostly been sitting around watching too much Big Bang Theory and singing “Soft Kitty” to myself. If you also watch too much Big Bang Theory, you’ll get the reference.

While I was back in the US last month my friend introduced me to the neti pot. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a little pot. You fill it with a salt water solution and pour it up one nostril and it comes out the other. For real. I’m not exactly sure how pouring water up your nose came up in conversation with my friend but it probably had to do with my constant sneezing over her cats. She told me I should try a neti pot for my allergies, so when my Amazon order needed an extra few dollars to get free shipping (darn you, for making me always spend $25 instead of giving me free shipping on everything like!), I bought a neti pot. I tried it once and almost forgot about it until my recent sickness.

That first time I tried nasal irrigation (the fancy name for it. See also “nasal douching,” the always comical name for it) I hated it. The reason I failed swimming lessons as a kid is because I hate getting water up my nose. Even as an adult I always have to hold my nose when going under. So pouring water up my nose was not at all an enjoyable or relieving sensation. I didn’t understand the hype. But when I was desperate to breathe and relieve my sinus pressure during my recent illness, I brought my little pot out again. I can now say that the neti pot is the best thing ever if you’re sick… as long as you do it correctly.

For starters, never use tap water. When I told my friend I got my neti pot, one of her friends freaked out and told me on Facebook that I was going to die. OK, not really, but she said there were many cases of people dying because they used neti pots. That’s not exactly what you want to hear when you’re nasal douching (hehe) — that it won’t just make you feel like you’re drowning in the ocean, it will also kill you. So I put on my investigative journalist hat and decided to check it out. It turns out only two people died and they were both in Louisiana, where apparently they have brain-eating amoebas in their tap water. (Note to self: do not drink the tap water in Louisiana). I even asked my doctor and he told me neti pots are perfectly safe and effective as long as you use distilled or filtered water. If you have to use tap water, boil it and let it cool a bit first.

I also learned there’s a right way to tilt your head. At one point the solution started coming out my mouth, which is equally as gross as milk coming out your nose when you laugh really hard, but no where near as hilarious.

My final tip is to watch how you blow your nose when you’re through irrigating. If you hold one nostril closed, you can blow mucus into your ear canals. I found this out after googling “neti pot ear pain” because I apparently don’t know how to blow my nose correctly.

So my ears hurt a little and I had to deal with a salt water mucus taste in my mouth, but I could breathe again. So if you’re suffering from a wicked head cold, I recommend pouring salt water up your nose and watching it come out the other nostril. It will make you feel much better. I also recommend watching a lot of Big Bang Theory.

(Final Deep Thought While Sick: Are can’t-breathe-out-of-either-nostril colds as miserable for mouth breathers? Discuss.)

So I got a new camera…

19 Jan

This is going to be a heavy photo post, because, well, everyone likes photos. That, and I finally got my new camera.

Remember when I was obsessed with finding a good deal on a DSLR on Black Friday? Well, there were no deals. I also realized I don’t really need a $500+ camera to accomplish what I want in my photos — specifically, shallow depth of field.

I believe my fascination with such photos started with this one:

I took it with the fancy Nikon I rented for my photojournalism class. To me it screamed “Look, I’m a good photographer with a good camera!” My photojournalism professor told me it sucked. (OK, not really, but he said I shouldn’t use it as my photo for the week. I’m hoping that’s because the assignment was a news photo and this picture doesn’t fully depict the giant sinkhole on Montrose Avenue.)

Ever since I took that picture I got it into my head that I could only take cool photos like that with an expensive DSLR. And then I got a super zoom camera and I fell in love. I could manually change the settings, get my shallow depth of field photos, and, well, super zoom. I’d have to buy an expensive lens to super zoom on a DSLR. So now I’m going to show off my mad photography skills in a series of random pictures from my trip back to the states.

Below you will find a photo of the best chicken wings in the world. And in true American fashion, they were all you can eat. They try to tempt you with other flavors, but the only kind you should ever get are garlic ranch. They serve garlic ranch wings in heaven, except in heaven they don’t give you a massive stomach ache or contain any calories. (And if you’re wondering why I photographed chicken wings, it’s because they are the best chicken wings in the world. Also, it was the first day I had my camera.)

This photo was not taken with my new camera, but I’m including it anyway because I made awesome Christmas cookies this year.

After Christmas Stephen and I took a trip to California where I fully got to break in my super zoom camera with dozens of photos of sea lions.

We went to the San Diego Zoo because they have PANDAS. They also had this in the parking lot. God bless America.

We had to wait in a long queue to see the pandas, but when life offers you the opportunity to see pandas, even if you’ve already held a baby panda in China and nothing can ever top that, you get in that queue (OK, line, since we were in America). We were politely told to take our photo then move out of the way so other people could take their photo and move. I think I took 20 photos of the same panda doing the same thing.

This might be the best photo I took of the trip. “What could be better than a panda?” you ask. Well, this:

I swear the only editing I did was add my blog address, so that when people google image “giant zebra wiener” they know what blog to go to.

I have no idea who this guy is, but I thought it made for a nice shot, especially the birds.

And then I got obsessed with shallow depth of field again and Stephen had to tell me to stop taking pictures of rocks. But doesn’t it look cool?!

We took a two-hour boat cruise around the harbor which was a total waste of money except I got this lovely shot of the sun setting under the Coronado Bridge.

We went to LA for the day where we did touristy things like complaining about all the tourists and I took too many photos of birds at Venice Beach.

That is all. Now that I have my new camera, I’ll try to make more photo posts, but, as usual, no promises. I still have photos saved on my desktop for that post I promised to write about Venice in August.

Remember when I used to post regularly?…

10 Jan

Wow… I really fell off the posting wagon. I wanted to post more, I really did. We returned to London on Thursday and I had so many things I wanted to do… and then I fell asleep. That has been the story of my life for the past week.

I generally experience two different types of jetlag — the can’t sleep and the can’t wake up variety. I usually get the can’t sleep type going to or coming from Asia and the can’t stop sleeping type coming back to the UK from the US. This time, however, I have some weird combination — I can’t fall asleep, but when I do, I can’t wake up. So I haven’t seen many mornings this past week. I’m trying to get back on a regular schedule, but going to bed late and waking up late is a vicious cycle to break. Jetlag always seems to be the worst when returning “home” (wherever that may be) because you have no motivation to adjust to the correct time zone, especially when you work from home. There are no meetings or scheduled meals to be awake for. I especially hate returning to the UK from the US because the flights always seem to arrive ungodly early — our flight came in at 5 a.m. GMT. That’s midnight EST and I didn’t sleep on the plane. I believe the correct way to beat jetlag is to stay up until an acceptable GMT bed time and then crash. Stephen came home, unpacked, showered, then went to work on Thursday. I, on the other hand, passed out at 7 a.m. for a “nap” and woke up at 2:30 p.m. Whoops. That could explain why my schedule has been out of whack. What meal are you supposed to eat when you wake up at 2:30 in the afternoon, anyway?

So that’s my excuse for not posting lately. I’ve got some ideas in the works (including photos!), but I just need to wake up…