D700 First Impressions, with Pictures

Bone-Tired: One of my first and favorite shots from the D700. Focus is a little soft.

Feel like I’m slacking on the content end just a bit here given there are more important posts in the wings, but I wanted to write down first impressions on the D700. After work today (at which I attended an interesting but infuriating labor conciliation meeting) I dashed out immediately with the new camera, going back to the Yuen Po Bird Garden and wandering around the Mong Kok night markets.

This post is probably going to get somewhat technical….

I am slightly worried about acclimating to this camera as I got a lot of crap today – tons of shots with underexposed areas to the point of being black. My D100 tended towards the overexposed side when indicating the exposure was correct, so I adjusted my expectations and settings to compensate. I came to anticipate what I would need to do to get the look I wanted. The underexposure with the D700 is definitely throwing me for a loop and I hope I can learn how to read and adjust my perception to it quickly. I know I’ll learn with time, but July 1st is right around the corner and personally, it will be a really important shooting day for me.

Chained Macaw

Chained Macaw - This Macaw has been chained to this post on both my visits to the bird garden. It can barely move. So cruel!! (White balance on this shot is off.)

At the same time, the few shots that did come out great are amazing. Do not regret my purchase at all – I know what the camera is capable of now and I’m seriously excited to see more. I definitely see a difference in color, one of my favorite aspects of photography, and the difference in noise is incredible. That has been the major problem in my shots with my D100 for the past few years, to my increasing chagrin. Seeing similar shots from a D700 with no noise whatsoever is pretty breathtaking for me (Ok, I am a camera geek.).

Street Food Vendor

Street Food Vendor - I like the colors here. Too garish? She's obviously not too happy with me...

There is one change with the D700 that sort of irks me and it’s mystifying. They removed the focus point diagram from the top setting readout and replaced it with the meter. I used the focus point diagram with my D100 all the time, changing the points to achieve the composition of the photo I was framing before lifting the camera to shoot. The meter readout just doesn’t seem to have the same practicality – I’m not going to be looking at it until I lift the camera to shoot as opposed to a focus point diagram. Slightly frustrating change to me, but perhaps I am missing something. Also liked having the histogram readout on top of the D100 photos. I can easily ignore it with the way the D700 works. (Found that I can look at focus points on the info readout – I’ll get used to that. I suppose the light meter might be there for tripod work.)

Lastly, given it’s a FX camera I figured it would change my lens perspective a bit and it definitely does – I don’t get as “close” with my walk around lens as I used to with my subjects. They’re smaller with the full frame. But hey, seriously not complaining here…. never thought I’d be owning a digital FX in the first place.

Langham Place World Cup Banners

Langham Place World Cup Banners and five story escalator. Having problems with over exposure too it seems.

My precious D100, we had a beautiful run…..

Smiling on a Queens Corner

Smiling on a Queens Corner - a picture I took approximately a year after purchasing the camera, in 2003. I kinda thought the smiling, dirty ball amid wrappers and dead leaves on a random Queens street corner had fleeting existential meaning.

Well, today is the day I’m officially retiring “my baby” – my eight year old Nikon D100. After excessive scrambling and researching of my options, Adorama, one of the best camera shops in NYC, (And the one I favor in the city given they were incredibly helpful when I was researching my first DSLR purchase – this is payback, thank you!!!) came through for me. I ordered a Nikon D700 on Thursday night Hong Kong time and it arrived here today, Monday afternoon. I was pretty behind on technology in the camera world still sporting my D100. While I wasn’t going to let it bother me all that much, when my camera started showing its age with its various malfunctions it was clear to me that it was time to upgrade. I had been thinking about it for a few years and I feel like I made the decision at the perfect time.

One of the biggest features of the D700 is that it’s a full frame camera instead of a DX – older digital sensors weren’t advanced enough to offer full frame shots unless you were going full on pro with a $5,000-$8,000 camera. Given that, all your lenses would be “cropped” by 10mm (or 15mm… a bit fuzzy right now…).

I have been gradually adding more pictures to the Hong Kong gallery in the portfolio though there is a bit of an annoying hang in between the loading of each one. Going to be researching that in the next few days and try to fix, and I’m writing a number of different posts about Hong Kong. In the meantime, I would suggest checking out my friend Alex’s blog, as she tells of her own experiences about Hong Kong from a pretty interesting perspective herself…. The line-cutting/bathroom stories are pretty infuriating, the first one happened on our day out to see the Filippino Independence Day Parade…

“Hong Kong Ruled by Hong Kong People” – Universal Suffrage Protests

Protester Wearing "V for Vendetta" Mask

Protester Wearing "V for Vendetta" Mask - was excited to see these as it's one of my favorite movies.

Hong Kong is a fascinating place. While on the one hand, it is a very global city (One of its mottoes is actually “Asia’s World City”), on the other it feels very insular to me. I buy the South China Morning Post everyday and try to keep up on the news as part of my program. Then I walk past the Legislative Council (LegCo) on my way to work and see the very protests about democracy legislation that the paper covering. The debates regarding the legislation were happening on Wednesday and Thursday. As LegCo it is only a few blocks from where I work, I was lucky enough to be able to check out the protests on a few occasions throughout the day. (See previous post regarding running around taking pictures in torrential rain.) I was planning on trying to document the protest some more on Thursday, but unfortunately I stayed home due to swollen glands – the pictures I did get on Wednesday are pretty subpar given my camera’s temperamental behavior as of late.

I can’t stop thinking about how the protest went down, as there were two different “sides”. The two camps were pro-government (or “pro-ourselves” as one interviewee claimed) and pro-democracy and subsequently, there were two different “protests” on either side of LegCo. At first it was really confusing listening to what sounded like a celebration, as well what was a much more organized portion of people, but I was given a run down later in the day and it made a lot more sense.

The Pro-Government Camp

The pro-government rally was cordoned off and you could only get in if you had special documentation. It was an area full of tents and seating, with a large stage for speeches and such. People were being bused in to attend. When the torrential rains came down they were a lot more comfortable than the other camp….

Pro-Democracy protesters continuing on despite torrential rains.

Pro-Democracy protesters continuing on in torrential rains.

Donald Tsang, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, also came through the Pro-Government crowd and ending up speaking to them at some point. As the legislation eventually passed 46-13, he proclaimed it a “triumph.” I believe that’s his face on the “Devil” shirt below:

Pro-Democracy Sign and Shirt

The pro-democracy rally was on the other side of the building. Anyone could access it and there was no seating or tents. Lots of handmade banners as opposed to the slick pro-government banners. When it rained, they were out in the open, save for their own umbrellas and such.

I think in the States the government openly (The word I should probably be using is blatantly, as I’m sure there are lots of examples one could come up with that may be working with the same sort of mechanism.) supporting a certain camp of protesters would be viewed as an anathema, and I wonder what people here think of it.

Pro-Democracy Activists creating a banner.

Pro-Democracy Activists creating a banner.

Legco from the Pro-Democracy side.

LegCo from the Pro-Democracy side.

Crazy Girls with Cameras Need not Apply….

Exhibit A: A policeman stationed outside the protest in absolutely crazy torrential downpour rains.

Today I found myself running around Central in my best business clothing, trying to get shots of the LegCo (Legislative Council) pro-democracy/pro-government protests in monsoon-like torrential rains. I was having a blast, but I also had to be at a meeting at 6. To further complicate matters, my 8 year old Nikon D100 camera is slowly dying on me. Of course, this was the exact time the autofocus gave out for many hours, as it has been doing since I got to Hong Kong. Trying to get proper focus in manual mode while holding an umbrella between shoulder and chin is not easy. Especially when the rain is mucking up one’s vision.

I must have looked truly mad to any onlookers, but I’m used to that, and the occasion was certainly worth it. The combination of two of my favorite things – ridiculous weather conditions and people coming together to make a statement – made it worth sticking around despite the difficulties. The energy in the air just couldn’t be beat. I only wish I could have really documented it properly.

I think my camera is finally starting to go and I’ve been scrambling to try and get a new one. Unfortunately, it’s just not that easy – my regular camera shop in NY was of no help to me at all (sorely tempted to take all further business elsewhere) and I’m not sure it’s worth the potential issues to buy one in Hong Kong. July 1st, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China, is fast approaching. I’ve been looking forward to shooting the parades and protests that will be going on on that day for the past six months, and I’m at a loss about what to do concerning my increasingly temperamental camera. This is what I get for trying to be financially smart and holding off on buying a new camera before my trip…. Needless to say, I’m pretty upset about this issue at the moment.

To top things off, I think I’m getting sick. Oops. More on the actual protests soon.

My Work in Hong Kong and Thoughts on Law

Raining at the Filipino Independence Day Parade

Raining at the Filipino Independence Day Parade

[About the Picture: I was privileged to attend the Filipino Independence Day Parade with my friend and classmate Alex a few weeks ago. I felt so welcomed, it is definitely one of the best days I’ve had in Hong Kong so far. We got rained on quite a bit, and while some were ducking for cover, it didn’t ruin the festivities one bit. I admire the domestic workers so much – always so warm and friendly, they seem so open and welcoming towards people despite all they’ve been through. Alex tells me this is a characteristic of Filipino culture.]

I want to expand on the reason I’m in Hong Kong and provide some background about how I arrived at my decision to choose this program.

One of the primary elements of the International Affairs graduate program at the New School is the Field Program. It was a big factor in my decision to choose the program because I wanted to have a foundation in theory with a focus and end goal towards practice. As my first year progressed, I began to think more about law and its potential in relation to human rights, becoming increasingly interested in taking an advocacy role.

Enter Helpers for Domestic Helpers, an organization in Hong Kong that allows me to experiment with this role. They offer legal advice and services to domestic workers who travel primarily from the Philippines to work in Hong Kong. I’m working with them here for two months.

Domestic workers maintain a special niche given they are legal migrants but are also prey to a system crafted to exploit them. They generate a huge amount of income for both their home and host government. They are big business, increasingly becoming commodified as economically ailing Southeast Asian countries compete to export the best “product”, their domestic workers. I hope to go more into depth about the trials that domestic workers in Hong Kong face as part of my writings on the blog.

In the past I’ve approached law with trepidation because it frustrates me to feel like I have to work within a system that is so flawed on a fundamental level. A perfect example of my frustration is the Catch-22 concerning domestic workers and their rights in Hong Kong. The bottom line is, these women need their working conditions improved in a myriad of ways. At the same time, their issues result from a complex, structural (legal, cultural, political, economic all entwined) system that is designed to exploit and subjugate them.

Introducing legal protections only further entrenches a system that treats them like commodities. It does not solve the problems that force them to migrate – the lack of jobs in their countries and the misdirected political will that pours resources into the Capitalist juggernaut of the region – it only serves as a stopgap for a much larger problem. For me, it is important that these women have the opportunity to make a living without being forced to leave their homes and their families.

I find that I’m constantly asking the question about where I want to put my energies – towards trying to get people more immediate help for their desperate situations while possibly promoting and spreading a system I don’t agree with, or trying to work for more lasting, yet very unlikely change. At this point, all I know is I have to stop asking the question and start doing something. (It seems counterproductive, but does it have to be either/or?)

1/2 Sheun Wan – A 1st Edition of Mao’s Little Red Book

Upper Lascar Row

A shopkeeper's stall on Upper Lascar Row. Note the stack of worn Little Red Books in the corner.

This is the kind of entry I was sort of dreading writing, but I hope this travelogue account is actually interesting. This post is 1 of 2 concerning my exploration of the neighborhood of Sheun Wan.

Today I decided to “trawl” (As the guide book says, love that word.) through Sheun Wan’s backstreet antique markets on Upper Lascar Row – aka Cat Street. Most of the bigger, more popular markets in Hong Kong cater to tourists with mountains of cheap, reproduced Asian goods. This is incredibly disappointing to me, as I love Asian religious and mythological art and statuary and hate to see it commercialized in such a way. Exploring Sheun Wan was just the thing I needed as an antidote.

Upper Lascar Row aka 'Cat Street'

A portion of Upper Lascar Row aka 'Cat Street'

Mao Kitsch

Mao watches and other assorted crap.

One of the most interesting things to me was how so many of the stalls have stacks of Mao’s Little Red Book. There are also a lot of kitschy, Mao themed goods. (Perhaps I’m missing something cultural here, but that seems to me like a great disrespect to the millions who died in the Cultural Revolution.) I wasn’t paying much attention to the Red Books until I encountered a stall with a careworn first edition of the Little Red Book in English. It had the owner’s name in it and everything – I was so excited – an actual piece of history!!! Something to add to my growing collection of memoirs by people who lived through the cultural revolution! (Unlike the majority of my books, I have actually read all of these.)

Little Red Books

Little Red Books

It seems the shopkeeper and I both missed each other by a mile in our assumptions. I figured it would be priced cheaply, as to the untrained eye it would look like a dusty, old, rather unremarkable book (completely forgetting I wasn’t in an area that is as geared towards tourists). He didn’t seem to understand why I would want such a thing, pointing to the mass produced one and saying I would want it more because “this one is new.” In the end, we both laughed over the fact that $1250 HKD (approximately $140 USD) was way out of my price range and I purchased the new Little Red Book for $40 HKD ($6ish USD).

Regardless, the find made my day and the mistaken assumptions amused me greatly. And now I have a Little Red Book to reference alongside the cultural revolution memoirs I read.

ULR Masks

Religious masks.

ULR Bowls

I almost purchased a few of these before wondering about pesky things like lead content...


Hong Kong Louis Vuitton

One of the high end shopping areas of Central HK - several high end stores line the streets, each storefront outdoing the other. This Louis Vuitton takes up half the block.

In doing the preliminary research for my paper, of which the topic was discussed in the previous post, I came upon a fascinating quote (please note, bold and italics my emphasis):

Incessantly and unreflectively, the Hong Kong miracle reproduces itself, to construct the former treaty port as an exemplar of the pragmatic path of advanced capitalism. Intellectuals have created an academic enterprise (the so-called Hongkongology) in order to sell the famous “Hong Kong experience” of their fixation. The popular counterpart of this hegemonic discourse is the Hong Kong fantasy embodied in postcards and coffee-table books that fetishistically, even vulgarly, builds on the glittering prosperity of the city; this fantasy is invariably taken as the totem representing Hong Kong and contextualizing the meanings of this long-colonial urban site. As a consequence of these perceptions, the hardships of poverty have been, so to speak, petrified, distanced as a faraway historical period – archaeologically termed the Age of Poverty – and thus, in effect, removed from the present-day social memory of Hong Kong. In this way, poverty and the impoverished are suppressed by this glittering totem and are effectively removed from the social agenda.
- Excerpt from Speaking Out: Days in the Lives of Three Hong Kong Cage Dwellers by Siu-keung Cheung

Perhaps that is why I’m finding it so difficult to find articles relevant to my topic… an extremely fascinating point, as I was wondering if the obsession with consumerism and money in Hong Kong has created a “gilded age” in which the ugly aspects of poverty have been completely glossed over.

I often felt anxious leading up to the trip that Hong Kong wouldn’t be the place for me in terms of the issues I’m interested in studying. I’m not sure how I could have ever worried about that now that I’m here – it seems the perfect nexus to study the issues I want to focus on: the way economics impacts human rights, colonial legacies, the collision of cultures (Chinese and Western), the way societies are economically and racially stratified, and last but not least, issues having to do with poverty in general.

Oh, and I still need to find out who exactly these elusive “cage people” are…. perhaps I’ll inform you next time…

Research Papers still give me nightmares…..

Kowloon Walled Garden

Kowloon Walled Garden - former den of iniquity. The tenements were known for drugs and prostitution. They were bulldozed in 1993 and turned into a garden.

…well, not really, but I need to write one by July 31st and I’d like to pick a topic by the end of the week. I originally wanted to study the impact that the flight of factory jobs had on Hong Kong and what happened to the population of people that lost them, as well as how Hong Kong adapted. Was very interested in this given it was the same economic trajectory as the US and it was in part a comparative study for myself.

At the same time, it’s not as sociologically oriented as I usually go for. I figure perhaps I can combine a number of topics I’ve been kicking around lately under the heading of how Hong Kong’s hyper-capitalism impacts the society. There are a number of examples I could probably wrap into this that I’ve been wondering about:

A criticism of Hong Kong civil society is that it is non-existent given the focus on consumerism. As long as people can consume, they care little about things like political activism or democracy. This is also a criticism leveled at mainland China and I’ve always been curious to explore it more in depth. An interesting point I overheard at a domestic worker forum yesterday was that it’s difficult to get Hong Kong people to donate to social causes. This is interesting, given a conservative mantra is that the more money you give back to people and the less you mandate goes to government provided social services, the more people will have a sense of “charity” on their own. I have no idea if this is applicable to Hong Kong, but it would be interesting to see.

Hong Kong provides little in the way of social services. I’ve been curious as to whether Hong Kong has a homeless population, as there are few on the streets as one would see in New York. In addition, if there is a homeless population, what is “done” with them? (A la Guiliani’s one way bus tickets out.) Homelessness doesn’t mesh with the ultra modern, high end image Hong Kong is trying to put forth. I’ve seen two people begging in the walkway tunnels, and on both counts, it was extremely disturbing – it looked like both of them had been through fires, as they were seriously deformed. The woman had lost all her fingers, and her face was seriously scarred. The man’s face had been “melted” to the point that most of his features were nearly unrecognizable – all but the eyes. He was outside of IFC, one of the high end malls in Hong Kong Central. It was sickening to see people walk by in designer clothing, only to ignore someone who was so obviously in need.

There is a definite hierarchy in terms of what is of primary importance in Hong Kong. For instance, it seems to be a very environmentally conscious city (in comparison to the United States). At the same time, consumerism and capitalist pursuits come first. So while there are signs everywhere entreating one to be careful about energy use, the stores in Hong Kong throw their doors wide open, allowing the air conditioning to come pouring through at high blast. Can only theorize that this is to entice buyers in, if only to partake in the AC and perhaps purchase something in the process.

I’m also interested in social stratification. As one of the few colonies which did not have people transported to live en mass, Hong Kong seems to be a relatively homogeneous society to someone like me. There is an obvious social hierarchy in terms of those native to Hong Kong versus domestic workers. At the same time, I’m curious as to whether there has been a stratification in which a certain set of Hong Kong people have benefited from the city’s wealth, whereas most of the people may have not.

The question of an “advanced” human rights perspective and Western “imposition”

Yuen Po Street Bird Garden

Yuen Po Street Bird Garden - Hundreds of birds for sale here, kept in extremely tiny cages - cruelty or just business?

[About the picture: The Yuen Po Street Bird Garden is a park in Hong Kong where people bring their caged birds to put on display. In addition, there are hundreds (perhaps thousands) of birds for sale. This particular bird was a popular one. Their discomfort at the tight confines of the cage was pretty obvious as they would all be rapidly moving from one side of the cage to the other in an effort to fly. They look black out of direct light, but in the sun they are a gorgeous dark, cobalt blue.]

An excerpt from an email I recently wrote in response to whether white societies are more advanced when it comes to human rights and expounding on the debate concerning whether the concept of human rights is a Western imposition:

I contest that white societies are more advanced from a human rights perspective – studying their colonial conquests illustrates that white societies are far from advanced from a human rights perspective. I think we’ve done a great job of breaking down indigenous systems of justice and erasing history to make it look like we’re some great hope that came to the rescue on a civilizing mission. I also think that we’re extremely good at using the media to gloss over the countless human rights violations that occur across the world due to our foreign policy.

At the same time, I won’t dispute that we have a well established law system and subsequently white people are well treated in our countries. We take care of our own – the problem is, we don’t give a shit about anyone else, nor do we want to see beyond the mythology of America as great savior.

As for a Western imposition of human rights, this is the other side of the debate when maintaining that there is a widely applicable set of human rights for all people. And while I generally think the idea of human rights as a “western imposition” is a bunch of bull, there are serious issues to consider.

For instance, the idea of banning child labor is a relatively new development and began in the West. At the same time, the West has the luxury to send its children to school – Western activists who have tried to ban child labor in other countries often overlook the root problems and have been accused of imposing Western values.

Is it worse for children to work or is it worse for a family to starve because it is illegal to send their children to work? In the end, a movement can do more harm than good because there is a lack of awareness about local problems. It is not so much about banning children from working (the “Western view”, according to critics) so much as it is about creating opportunities such as schooling for children and jobs for adults so children don’t have to work out of economic necessity. So while I generally disagree with the overall statement that standardizing human rights is a western imposition, there are shades of gray and ways that efforts to apply a standard of human rights can do more harm that good.