Friday, 13 April 2012

My Asian adventure in China

It seems just like yesterday that I applied to go on a journalism project to Guangzhou, China, with the University of Central Lancashire. The trip immediately caught my attention because China was a part of the world I had always longed to visit. Applying was simple; come up with an original story idea that you would pursue once there and highlight the journalistic skills you bring to the table. I'll admit, my pitch about cycling the streets to find unusual and quirky attractions was not as exciting as some of the story ideas that others came up with, which included exploring 'marriage parks' (where singletons wander in the hope of finding their soul mates) and profiling middle-eastern expats living in China. Nonetheless, I was one of the lucky 14 to be chosen for the 9-day trip.

The focus of the trip was to put our journalism skills and knowledge to use while working with a group of Chinese students, all of whom are studying international journalism at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, an affiliate of UCLan. We were sent out to different parts of Guangzhou, China's third largest city situated in the South East of the country, to cover various beats, from art exhibitions to transport updates and small community stories. The experience, for me, was like nothing I had ever done before.

Beijing Lu - busy pedestrian shopping district in Guangzhou
Photo by Shabana Adam
Being out of my comfort zone, in an up and coming mega-city and not being able to speak the native language, sounded like a daunting prospect at first. However, once we got out there I realised I couldn't have been more wrong. Guangzhou is a charming city with many different, yet appealing faces. Beijing Lu, the main pedestrian shopping district of the city bares an uncanny resemblance to London's Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square area with its bright neon light signs, huge TV screens and western department stores such as H&M and Converse.

Downtown is packed with restaurants, clubs, karaoke bars and western-style pubs whereas Zhujiang New Town, a district located north of the Pearl River, is a dizzying metropolis of landmark skyscrapers and impressive modern architecture, namely Guangzhou Opera House, Guangdong Museum and the tallest structure in China, the 590ft Canton Tower.

Entrance way to the Chen Clan Academy

Photo by Chuang Tian

History and tradition is still deeply ingrained in many areas of the city. Xiao Zhou Village is a haven for artists and poets to escape to with its narrow stone-laden alleyways and lazy canals and rivers, it provides a real insight into classic cantonese living. A visit to the small community of Yanyunxi in Yuexiu District or the Chen Clan Academy, now known as Guangdong Museum of Folk Art, will transport you back in time to Imperial China where you can really experience what life was like centuries ago during the Qing Dynasty.

Some of the highlights of the trip for me included covering a new photography exhibition at Guangzhou Opera House, interviewing a British expat on Shamian Island, a European-esque district on the edge of the Pearl River and a day off spent at Chimelong Paradise theme park. We also had the opportunity to visit Guangzhou News Centre and Guangzhou Daily Printing Museum.

Most of the memories I carry with me from the trip all involve the Chinese people. A gentle, hospitable and truly kind people, despite language barriers every person I met on the trip (and I'm sure I speak for my peers too) greeted us with a cheery smile, was always willing to go out of their way to help and make us feel comfortable and above all, was genuinely interested in getting to know us. It's the new friends we all made on the trip that I will miss the most.

I have always found solace in this inspiring travel quote: “Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken.”  - Frank Herbert. After visiting a small corner of this fascinating country, I can solemnly say that China awoke the sleeper in me and many who I shared this experience with - for that I am forever grateful.

This is what some of my peers, who came on the trip, had to say:

"The trip to China has taught me a lot both culturally and professionally. I enjoyed working with the Chinese students and listening to their views on the industry, understanding their approach to chasing stories in the city and above all being able to experience their culture. The biggest challenge was the language but that made the experience all the more interesting. It’s a fascinating part of the world and a place I’m keen to explore further." 
Matthew Worthington, 21

"It was completely different to the journalism you learn in a classroom - actually getting out there and finding stories within a completely different culture was amazing. Everyone really got stuck in and it was great to see all the different stories at the end of it." 
Faye Grima, 19

"The Hotpot trip was the first time I've actually felt like a journalist in nearly two years of a journalism degree. Finding stories in a city that I don't know, in a language that I can't speak has been the most exciting journalism I've done." 
James Mellan, 20

"I think the chance to go to China on this journalism project was such a great opportunity for which I am really grateful. I feel that I have a lot more confidence in my news gathering abilities now; if I can manage in Guangzhou, I can cope anywhere!" 
 Hanna Breeze, 21

"It was a week that now it's finished I've realised was one that I will remember for a long time. The people who I went on the trip with were an amazing bunch and I met some brilliant people while I was out there. I also learnt that I can easily transfer my journalism skills to another country and culture which will come in handy in the future." 
Dominic Fleming, 21

Below: check out some of the photos from the trip.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Photography: a secret passion

You can't go travelling without a camera. It would be like taking no change of clothes - ok, slight exaggeration there.

My camera occupies a really special place in my life. Well, it lives in a case at the bottom of my bag but, nonetheless, it comes with me everywhere I go. This became a habit after I visited India for the first time in 1998. Although I was only 9 years old there were so many things I wanted to snap and put in a holiday album. Unfortunately, at that time I didn't have a mobile phone and I wasn't responsible enough to be trusted with a camera all to myself. What I saw and did during that holiday sits firmly in my mind as memories now.

I bought my first camera aged 11, it was a polaroid. It was big, silver and I pretty much took it everywhere with me. In all honesty I had got it for a spice girls (remember them?) concert I was going to. But, I ended up using it at every chance I could.

The polaroid was brilliant. A no-nuisance camera. You take the picture and it slides out the bottom on white polaroid photo-ready paper. It was simple and my photo albums were filled up very quickly. It's been over 10 years since I've seen the camera - it's tucked away in the storage room at home.

Since then I've happily moved on to many a camera. At the moment I have a silver Sony Cyber-Shot DSC S930 10.1 MP digital cam. It's small, compact and a bit worn out - now that I've had it for over two years - but, it does the job and it does the job well.

Photography is an area of interest that was born out of a travel experience for me. What I really enjoy is taking photographs of places, people, buildings, sign posts, food.... anything I find worth capturing on holiday. Although I'm no Peter Tsai, Matt Brandon or Basil Pao (some of the best in the game) I take pride in my amateur camera skills and occasionally, meaning very rarely, I take a shot that makes me think 'wow that's great' - when in fact it's probably just ok. But, that's alright with me because photography isn't really about quality and positioning and exposure for me, it's about what's on the other side of the lens and, more importantly, the memories that are sparked when I look at what I've captured.

Here's a slideshow of what I think are some of the best photos my sony cyber-shot has captured. I like to play around with these things so some of the photos have been manipulated in terms of colour and size. What do you think??

Showreel by Shabana Adam on Vuvox

Monday, 5 December 2011

The survey says...

Thanks to all those who completed the 'Travel Talk' survey I posted last week. It was surprising yet great to find that regardless of the financial crisis, over 80 per cent of you took at least one holiday this year and a few were lucky enough to take more than four. Strangely, it's the 18-24's who came out on top as every single person in that age group, who took the survey, had been on at least one holiday this year - as they say, this is the age group with the most disposable income (at 22, I would beg to differ).

There was no doubt about it that the majority of you, a whopping 80 per cent to be exact, preferred beach holidays with cultural (10 per cent) adventurous (5 per cent) and city breaks (5 per cent) just about making the cut.

I got some weird and wonderful answers for the most unusual item you pack to take on holiday, from old sentimental teddy bears to bin bags and bath ducks. However, the prize for most unusual item, hands down, goes to the person who packs, wait for it, a GAS MASK! You heard.

Showing your adventurous side (not!) 75 per cent said New York is the place they would MOST like to be right now - maybe the majority of you are either budding fashionistas or journalists, who knows? Sydney came in second with 10 per cent whereas 5 per cent would rather be living the fast life in India, followed by Cuba, Turkey and Tokyo (which weren't on my list but were chosen as 'other'!).

The survey also found that a majority of you are not too fond of staycations - well not in this partcular Lincolnshire town anyway. Surprise, surprise... Scunthorpe won the title for the place you would LEAST like to be. And in true brit fashion, half of you confessed that you go on holiday simply to relax and, secondly, to top up the tan!

Check out the pie charts below, displaying results to questions 7 and 8!

Thanks again for taking part.

It looks as though Scunthorpe's oceanic climate and industrial charm didn't quite appeal to many of you.


Russia, the world's largest country, with the one of a kind St Basil's Cathedral, is another unpopular choice. 

The result speaks for itself...

Typical Brit holiday success formula - Sun for the tan, Sea for the fun and Sand...well to lay on and build castles. 

Oh, of course, don't forget to throw in a little bit of local culture!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Your holiday habits

Fill in the survey below and check back next week for the results.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Data driven journalism

“Journalism has always been about reporting facts and assertions and making sense of world affairs. No news there. But as we move further into the 21st century, we will have to increasingly rely on “data” to feed our stories, to the point that “data-driven reporting” becomes second nature to journalists.”
Zach Beauvais

The above statement closely resonates with the work of American journalist and Freedom of Information activist,  Heather Brooke, who helped to expose UK parliamentary expenses. However, as a trainee journalist, the last thing that comes to my mind is data. Statistics are not my forte. I was terrible at maths in school and to be fair, I have managed to get through life knowing the basic - addition, subtraction, division and multiplication. So, imagine my face when, in digital journalism class, there was talk of mean, median and mode. Huh? I never thought I’d have to do averages again. Ever. 

But, my lecturer Andy Dickinson aka digidickinson put things into perspective when he said: “The mark of a good journalist is not knowing how to do everything, but, knowing whom to ask.” This statement alone was enough to get my attention.

In 3 hours, I learned that “data” can in fact provide interesting stories and is not as hard as it seems to analyse. The class began with looking at how to create forms and spreadsheets on Google documents and how these can be useful to obtain, arrange and visually display information or results. Andy taught us how to ‘scrape’ and ‘clean’ using html formulas.


This is a way to get information out of web pages and in to a spreadsheet. Google docs also have a clever way to ‘scrape’ websites as part of their spreadsheet tool. It involves a simple copy and paste using a, not so simple, formula and wallah the data magically appears, from your chosen web page and in to your spreadsheet. Thankfully for me, I wrote the instructions down.

As a class we copied the table of results of the best-selling albums, off wikipedia (for practice purpose only) and transferred this information into our Google spreadsheet. Once the data is in the spreadsheet, you are allowed to ‘clean’ it in terms of getting rid of any errors. Depending on what sort of data you are dealing with, the super helpful formulas (and this I did find impressive) will help you find the average, or in mathematical terms, the mean, median and mode of your selected cells within that one spreadsheet - you just have to know the right formula to tell Google spreadsheet what to do.

It really is something that, I see, can help journalism, also, the formulas can easily be found on the internet so you don’t actually have to do any maths! 

The “daddy of data scraping”

Funded by Channel 4, Scraperwiki is a website predominantly for computer programmers to help data requesters and, right now, is the current fave among journalists as the go to place for data related information. As we discussed in the lecture, the relationship between journalists and programmers is important. In many cases it helps to serve the public interest, especially if the data in question can reveal valuable and newsworthy material, just as the analysis of MPs expenses did.

Meet Junar was another website that Andy introduced us to. Not only can you collect, organise and use data but it also contains data that you can explore and which might be of use to you. It also has a social element by allowing the user to share their data on social networking platforms. Now, this is more my cup of tea. 

The Guardian's DATABLOG, edited by Simon Rogers, a pioneer in data driven journalism, is a great place for inspiration when it comes to how to report stories based on data and more importantly how to present the data in visual form. More recently, the DATABLOG, published a world map dotted with the occupy protests, which on it's own painted a powerful story. It goes to show that data can be used in so many different ways.


How do you present data in an engaging yet simple form? This part I didn’t mind. Bar charts, pie charts, line graphs and tables – they all work well with stories based on facts and figures. This sort of traditional visualisation of data goes hand in hand with stories about growth, decline, change, comparison and ranking. However, if you want to opt for a more simplistic yet effective way of telling a story then take a look at – a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. is free and easy to use                  Zoom in
Check out the word cloud above which I created on using a story, headlined, Hamid Karzai tells loya jirga: no US military pact until night raids cease, from the Guardian's website

The most prominent words in the news report are Afghan, Karzai, military, night, raids, partnership, sovereignty, national, Afghanistan, strategic and operations. The word cloud instantly portrays the angle and of this story and you now have a good idea of what's written in the full report. 

By the end of the class, I felt much more comfortable about having to analyse and organise data for journalistic use.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Learning that I made the right choice

Check out my (poor) attempt at reading and editing news, emphasis on the word poor. This was part of an exercise during the digital journalism module. The idea was to record an original piece of video and edit it using Adobe Premier Elements. It didn't help that I was recovering from a flu when I braved it to face the camera and report a few environment stories from Preston - environment being my beat and Preston my place of study.

Initially, this exercise seemed like a chore. But, it was a task that made me realise a number of things:

1) I'm sure, more than ever before, that print journalism is what I want to be doing. Broadcast is definitely not for me.

2) Setting up a camera to film raw footage is much much harder than it seems and speaking into one is near enough torture - I salute the people who do it on a daily basis.

3) In the worse case scenario, if push came to shove, I am capable of filming something - just not of a great quality. 

4) I, surprisingly, enjoyed the editing process and found Adobe Premier Elements as a great tool for video production.

5) Not having an auto cue proved extremely difficult, I was constantly looking down to read what I had to say which was unprofessional and amateur and definitely wouldn't cut it in the real world.

6) I should definitely stick to hiding behind the written word. In simple terms - I look terrible on camera!

This was also the first time I made use of my YouTube account so... Here's the video - I've made a number of mistakes - see if you can spot them!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

It's Eid... Let's Eat!

Today is a special day in the Islamic calendar, Bakra Eid, also known as Eid-Ul-Adha, which is celebrated with great enthusiasm by Muslims all over the world. Bakra Eid is the “festival of sacrifice”, an occasion when Muslims pay thanks for their good fortune by sharing and giving to the less fortunate. It also marks the end of the month during which devout Muslims make the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

Traditionally, Bakra Eid, which falls approximately 70 days after the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, is marked by the slaughter of animals as sacrificial offerings, known as Qurbani. The meat is then distributed among the poor.

During the two-day festivities Muslims offer prayers at the mosque, wear new clothes and visit the homes of their nearest and dearest. One of the key ingredients of the celebrations is the delicious food, which includes sweets, desserts and beverages, cooked for family and friends. We’re not talking your usual curry or kebab. Surprisingly, many people outside the Islamic world are unfamiliar with common Eid foods. So, what is eaten during Bakra Eid?

The answer is, a little bit of everything. From lamb stew (gosht salan) to sweet rice pudding (kheer) to fish kebabs. A variety of food is prepared with a fusion of different cultures including Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Arabic. See for yourself below!

Showreel by Shabana Adam on Vuvox

Friday, 28 October 2011

Travel Talk: Bahrain

How excited was I when I learned that one of my fellow classmates is an expat who grew up in Bahrain?! Very excited. So I took the chance to speak to Katy about cultural differences between the UK and Bahrain and exactly why you should visit the Pearl of the Gulf.

by Shabs_A

Follow Katy's blog for more info about Bahrain and tips on what to do when you get there.

Friday, 21 October 2011

The best travel experience

I have been lucky enough to visit some incredible places including India, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Dubai, to name but a few. My fascination with travel began at a young age, which is also one of my earliest memories as a child. I remember clear as day, walking onto a ferry aged 4, to cross the channel and visit family in Holland.

I remember being mesmerised by the water all around when my gran picked me up to look over the edge. Since then travelling has become an innate obsession. Although I've experienced some wonderful countries, my most treasured time abroad was last year on a three-week volunteer project to Marrakech.

I found myself browsing the photos from this trip on my Facebook profile today, so I thought I'd share some of those memories with you all. Check out the collages below, of my favourite pics that I took on the trip. All of them represent a memorable day or special moment!

From top left: Doors into Koutoubia Mosque, My first meal at Djemma El Fna square, Ouzoud Waterfalls, Me at the top of Ouzoud before our walk down, Me and Antony (another volunteer) at the boys orphanage, fishing boats in Essaouira.

From top left: Cabanas at Nikki Beach hotel where sex and the city 2 was filmed, Me standing on the fort ruins of Skala de la Ville in Essaouira, Oversized babouches, Me in front of the mighty Ouzoud Waterfalls, Stalls in Djemma el fna square selling dried fruit and nuts, Volunteering at a day care centre in a berber village, Koutoubia mosque minaret, Horse drawn carriage in Marrakech, Windy beach at Essaouira Bay, Beautiful intricate architecture at Palace Bahia.

Collages created on photovisi and collageIt

Friday, 14 October 2011

Do vampires suck?

Like them or loathe them, vampires have become a TV phenomenon in recent times with most being gorgeous rather than grotesque. Unlike the mere mortals of the telly world, the zeitgeist dominating undead have a definitive allure of immortality, animalism and torment that modern day viewers find exciting. These vampiric traits have led a number of TV shows to huge success – moving well away from the days of Count Dracula.

The nocturnal neck nibblers have made a quick transition from literature to TV  and audiences have done nothing less than praise their dangerously seductive lifestyles.

As for the question of do vampires suck? - Yes – they do, a lot, for survival that is. However, the current generation of TV viewers find vampire antics obscurely inspiring for a story line – I’m one of those people and having watched various vamp motivated shows, I can safely say, vampires do NOT suck – only when they’re hungry!

Here are three of my fav vampire shows to hit our screens to date

An international cast dominates this vampire world -
Image courtesy of Claire Schmitt
True Blood
Sex and sin in the deep southern state of Louisiana. Charlaine Harris's books, Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire Mysteries novels are brought to life by creator and producer Alan Ball, through a pleasurably escapist plot. Out-of-the coffin vampires trying their fangs at mainstreaming with werewolves, shape-shifters, witches, homosexual drug dealers, devil healers, double standard politicians and the protagonist - a telepathic waitress. It's raw and sultry with crude humour, spine-tingling horror and poisonous heartbreak. True Blood airs for its 5th season on HBO next summer.

The vampire TV reign started with Buffy in the 90s
Image courtesy of Phillipp Lenssen
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
For all the vampires she staked  there was always the perilously handsome Angel and devilishly hunky Spike. Seven seasons and thousands of super stunt kicks later, Sarah Michelle Gellar’s iconic character came to an end. For the time she and her band of sidekicks graced our TV screens we were introduced to demon hellmouths, high school drama, unforgivable curses, black magic, first love and in the case of her nerdy best friend Xander, unrequited affection. Buffy and her crew were your not-so-average everyday students, saving the world from unfathomable mysteries and a dangerous group of crimson tide connoisseurs, i.e. seriously dodgy vampires.

The Vampire Diaries
Dashing brother duo Stefan and Damon Salvatore (Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder) are relatively new to the TV vampire army. Their sharp teeth, perfect cheekbones and smoky predator eyes makes it hard not to watch the Vampire Diaries, based on the popular book series by L.J. Smith. Mystic Falls is their paranormal hometown of supernatural activity, again, with an abundance of mythical creatures like the vampire’s oldest enemy, werewolves. The brothers are on a continuous battle of good vs evil alongside fighting for the attention of a high school hottie – Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev) who also plays her feisty vampire doppelganger Katherine. The toxic love triangle and cliché question of will they won’t they works to the advantage of the show.
 If your not into vampires - watch it for the ridiculously
 good-looking cast - Image courtesy of Cristian Krause
Check out the official trailer for The Vampire Diaries episode titled 'Appetites', on the CW. From this 30 second clip it's easy to understand why the supernatural world of vampires is so enticing - obsession, seduction, temptation and pure escapism, what's not to love??! Enjoy!                                                                                                                    

Official episode trailer uploaded by the CW network's YouTube page