This week I got to visit several places that had been on my “to do list” for quite a number of years. First off was the dinosaur museum in Chaoyang city, Liaoning.

Chaoyang has caused a storm in palaeontology in recent times. The very fine sediments here mean that fossils are superbly well preserved. Usually, only bones are preserved in fossils, but at Chaoyang, even soft tissues such as skin, scales, hair and feathers show up.

This means that Chaoyang has an amazing collection of fossils including some of the worlds oldest birds, fish, dragon flies, spiders, and the first even confirmed feathered dinosaur.

That is the thing that has really messed up palaeontology over the last 20 years – dinosaurs had feathers!

Just how extensive dinosaur feathers were is still debatable. Did they all have feathers or only some? Did they have feathers all over, or just on parts of their bodies? Since they didn’t all fly, what function did the feathers serve? What colour were they?

The one thing we do know, that text book you saw as a kid with lizard like dinosaurs slithering slowly in swamps is completely wrong.

So that is why I wanted to visit Chaoyang so much.

The museum itself is quite large with both indoor and outdoor displays and a 4D cinema. The displays are really unique but disappointingly, many of the display cases were empty.  (Perhaps being used for a touring exhibition?)

Zhuhai for winter Sun

Last week was Chinese new year. All of China goes on holiday. I took the opportunity to head off to the south of China to get a little winter sun. I have been to Guangdong province several times in winter. Guangdong is right in the south of China next to Hong Kong. The biggest city in Guangdong is Guangzhou, which I went to last year. Guangzhou used to be better known as Canton, giving us the word Cantonese. This year, I went to the neighbouring city of Zhuhai

Zhuhai is a new city. It was founded in 1980 as a special economic zone, the second such zone in the newly opened up China. Its position, right next to the Portuguese colony of Macau and near the British colony of Hong Kong, was intended to boost international trade in mainland China.

It’s the End of the Wall (as we know it)

The Great Wall of China ends at the border with North Korea, near the city of Dandong in the Northeast of China. I visited the Hushan Wall (Tiger Mountain) during the Labor Day holiday 2016.

The wall here is contentious point with some Koreans (North and South). I’ve had heated comments on other forums and on Wikipedia either denying the wall exists or claiming it as a Korean wall not Chinese. The truth is that the late Ming dynasty, the Chinese did build a section of wall here. It didn’t stop at the modern day border, because that wasn’t the border during that time period. The wall here would have gone on into North Korea and curved westward, towards the sea. Excavations and investigation of this further section of wall are limited by the current political situation in the countries concerned. So for the time being this is the end of the wall.

The buildings you see are almost entirely modern reconstructions of the wall. Some commentators I have criticized the reconstitution as not being faithful to the original. They say the wall in Liaoning was later built than the walls near Beijing, and architecturally distinct. However, the reconstruction here copies the architectural style of the Beijing walls.

One key point of interest here is that the wall is right at the border with North Korea. At the base of the hill is a small waterway of only a few metres width, which marks the border between the China and North Korea. From the tower at the top of Hushan, you can see a considerable distance into Korea. Soldiers can be seen patrolling the border on the Korean side of the river and several Korean villages are nearby.


Dandong is a small city in Liaoning, north east China, famous for being right on the border with North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or DPRK). All that separates the two is a small stretch of water – the Yalu  River. Tourists frequent the promenade along the river front. The contrast is stark with the tall modern buildings and bright lights of Dandong on one side and few low-rise industrial or utilitarian building on the other.

One bridge spans the river. It carries a single line for both rail and road traffic. Next to the modern bridge are the bombed out remains of an older bridge that carried supplies over to North Korea during the Korean War. At that time, China fought alongside North Korea, against South Korea and the UN forces lead principally by the United States. To cut of supplies, the US repeatedly bombed the bridge. Today the broken remains are a popular tourist draw.

View along a sandy beach. Yellow sand on the right, sea on the left. Tourists play on the sand and paddle in the sea. There is a clear blue sky and strong sunlight.

Bindaihe – sun, sea and sand

View along a sandy beach. Yellow sand on the right, sea on the left. Tourists play on the sand and paddle in the sea. There is a clear blue sky and strong sunlight.

Russian and Chinese tourists relax on Beidaihe beach.

Beidaihe is a Chinese tourist resort near Qinhuandao city in Hebei province. It is close to both Beijing and Tianjin cities and so a popular holiday destination. First to come were Europeans at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. They brought the European tradition of sun bathing and swimming in the sea. From the 1950s on, Beidaihe was popular with the Chinese elite. Its proximity to Beijing made it a convenient summer camp for the leadership. Mao Zedong and others frequented the resort. Today it remains popular with Chinese tourists. Russians also come here from the Russian Far East and Siberia looking for the traditional European style, “Sun, sea and sand” beach holiday. You’ll find few westerners here, just Chinese and Russian tourists.

A long strip of sandy beach curves into the distance. Hotel buildings are on the right. The sea and a small harbour are on the left.

View from our hotel window looking over Qinhuangdao South Beach

I visited Beidaihe in August 2014 along with my family. The beaches stretch for many kilometres starting at Qinhuangdao, running round Beidaihe and onwards to Nandaihe. We stayed in an apartment hotel in the south of Qinhuangdao. It cost 200 RMB per night. We drove to Beidaihe in about 20 minutes form here. We elected to avoid the parks and just find a strip of beach. We found just a spot on the south side of Beidaihe’s headland. Renting a parasol and deck chairs for a day, everywhere we looked we saw Russian sunbathers. The Chinese generally don’t like sun bathing as they want white skin. The Russians follow the European tradition of sun worship. Spend the whole day on the beach and got rather too much sun. One thing to be careful of in China – though the sky is hazy for much of the summer, the sun is strong. You can easily get heat stroke even though you might not get sun burnt. Make sure you consume large amounts of water/juice throughout the day.

Replica Chinese Junk boat in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour.

Managing my photos

Replica Chinese Junk boat in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour.

Replica Chinese Junk boat in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour.

The down side of any holiday, like last week’s trip to Hong Kong and Macau, is that when I come home I have to organise all the photos and videos that I took. It used to be a real hassle to sort through the thousands of pictures. I had to check them, correct slanty horizons, spot our any marks, crop some edges, discard blurred shots, and adjust contrast and brightness. This takes quite some considerable time. Then after that, I have to go through all the picture and give each a title, description, tags, and geo-locate with coordinates. This could take weeks. However, now I have some tools that help me.

The first and favourite tool is Picassa. If you don’t already have Picassa on your computer, download it now for free. This photo management tool lets me easily find all my photographs. It allows me to do most of the basic corrections required. It is fast and easy to use. I prefer this over more powerful photo editing packages, such as Adobe Photoshop, because it is so fast. Sure it doesn’t have as many features as Adobe Photoshop, but for quickly tweeking horizons, adjusting brightness, contrast and hue, and doing simple cropping, there is not anything else as fast.

The second tool I can’t do without is Flickr. The main purpose of Flickr for me is as a backup. Imagine if my hard drive broken or my PC was stolen. All my photographs would be lost. So I use Flickr. By uploading my photographs to Flickr, I am able to ensure that my photos will be preserved. If I lose my local copy, I can just download the backup from Flickr. On the side, putting my photographs on Flickr, provides me with some much needed publicity. Allot of my site’s visitors come from Flickr.

The third and last tool on this list is Adobe Photoshop. This is by far and large the most powerful of the photo editing packages available. I have tried a few others and nothing matches up to Photoshop. However, it is sometimes too big for it’s boots. Most common, everyday tweeks I do using Picasa. Only big difficult jobs go through Photoshop. But that is why I need it. There are some big tasks that only Photoshop really can do. So every photographer should have a copy of this application installed on their PC.

Skyline of Hong Kong taken from Kowloon. The day is rainy and clouds pass between the buildings and mountains.

Just Returned From Hong Kong

Skyline of Hong Kong taken from Kowloon. The day is rainy and clouds pass between the buildings and mountains.

Hong Kong skyline from Kowloon

I had a quick, 5 day, holiday to Hong Kong and Macau last week. It was my third time in Hong Kong and my second time in Macau. I never tier of Hong Kong. It’s a fabulous city, full of life and with great style. Just need to work out how to get a job there so I can live there all the time.

Flew first to Shenzhen then took the cross border bus to Hong Kong. Spent about 3 hours in total to get into down town Hong Kong (Kowloon). First stop was the waterfront of Kowloon which affords great views over to Hong Kong island (see photo above). We took the star ferry over to Wan Chai. Then got the Victoria Harbour boat tour, which lasted about an hour. During this time the sun had set and Hong Kong’s buildings were in full illumination. The bus tour also took us up Happy Valley to a lookout spot from which we could view the city.