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Xmas in Xi'an

Saturday, December 28, 2013

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Strange how things work out isn’t it?  I had no idea where I’d end up spending Christmas this year, I knew it was likely to be China because I couldn’t see me getting through the country before the New Year. In my mind I’d sort of written Christmas off – the Chinese don’t celebrate Christmas on December 25th do they?  Well you wouldn’t have known it here in Xi’an. Truth is I think the Chinese (just like a lot of other nations) will take every opportunity to celebrate! It was quite a sight on the streets and everybody seemed to be getting into the party mood, including our hostel.

The Hang Tang Hostel gets into the swing of Christmas western style!

I signed up for the evening buffet and joined a lovely lady called Dawn from bonnie Scotland who had made the trip out here to visit her daughter, and our small table group also included a couple of Americans, which gave ample opportunities to waffle on. It was a very nice evening and a little different from last year, when I sat atop a rain soaked hill overlooking the coast of Spain.

Christmas day morning and I didn’t have any presents to open, so I checked my emails. I had a PayPal notification that $300 had been paid into my account, so I searched to find out where it had come from and sure enough in the details was the following message “Derek, we spoke a while ago about an ‘action cam’ for you. The GoPro Hero 3+ is $299 and if you want this or another model, please purchase one with my donation.” Once again I was dumbstruck, I have never known such kindness from people who barely know me. It didn’t take me long to get on the internet and check out what was available. I had always hankered after the GoPro, but now I learned Sony had entered the ‘action cam’ arena with a new model which was supposedly superior – I’d just have to go and have a look.

Sony HDR-AS30V ActionCam – actual size.

Once I’d seen the Sony and it’s available accessories it was a clear choice for me, especially as I could pick one up immediately at a very good price of just 1600 Yuan (about £160) allowing me to purchase the additional accessories and memory card.

Here’s the technical blurb:

The Action Cam HDR-AS30V is a new, wearable Full HD camcorder from Sony. The newest Action Cam features an 11.9-megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor, a Carl Zeiss Tessar lens with a diagonal angle of view of 170 degrees, Wi-Fi connectivity with NFC (Near Field Communications) and GPS. The in-built Wi-Fi enables the Sony Action Cam HDR-AS30V to connect to my iPhone, which can then be used as a controller, allowing ‘hands-off’ operation when the camera is mounted in hard-to-reach places. The new Action Cam HDR-AS30V from Sony is available in UK from the end of September, priced at £260.

I was due to leave Xi’an on Boxing day, but I simply had to test this new toy before I left, telling myself “what if it’s faulty or their is a problem?” in trying to justify the extra day here – silly, but that’s just me!
So off I rode with it attached to my handlebars, firstly during daylight, then later as darkness fell. You’ll have to wait until I get my head around editing movies for the results, but my initial impression is it performs better than I expected and is very good in low light.

The Smog

And talking of low light it has been pretty awful here in terms of the smog, as until today it had been impossible to see the sun at all since I arrived, it being hidden behind the very thick blanket of smog hanging over the city. Only when the wind got up did it clear and we saw it for the first time this morning. However it’s a two edged sword, the wind makes it bitterly cold. I did try and get some photographs, but without decent light they were pretty uninspiring.

The sun tries to break through the smog in Xi’an


The Bell Tower, Xi’an


The Drum Tower, Xi’an


Another view of the Drum Tower, Xi’an

I returned later at night while testing the new video camera and took a couple more, the area was extremely busy with traffic and the park walkways were packed with locals.

The Bell Tower at night, Xi’an


The Drum Tower at night, Xi’an

The big city centers are OK, but here in China they offer little opportunity to capture those special photographic moments when you are people watching or looking for portraits of local tradesmen etc. It seems every time I point my camera I’m surrounded by people wanting me to photograph them, which is not really what I’m after. I’m sure this will change when I get into the countryside and smaller villages, where hopefully I’ll get away from photographing temples for a while. Xi’an has been a little disappointing for me in terms of what I’ve seen, but everything is quite expensive to enter (the terracotta warriors were just too much on my tight budget) and so maybe that’s why I feel I haven’t done it justice.

So it’s off to Chengdu which is about 750 km south of here. Hopefully  it’ll be a little warmer as I head even further south towards Leshan to pick up my 30 day visa extension and then onto the Leaping Tiger Gorge. Lot’s of interesting stuff (and lot’s of riding) before we get there, I’ll post updates when I can. More soon…

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