Saturday, March 19, 2011

China, October 2010.

So here are the pics from the not-so-recent trip to China. This is a long entry. I mean very long. It took me about one full month to put this entry together. A lot of thought went into this entry, but importantly, more thoughts came out of it.

It's only been a couple of years since my last visit, and yet for some reason I expected something different from the place. Truth be told, China is changing so rapidly that there are always physical surprises every time I visit. And yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Here is my photo essay of China. My thoughts and conclusions follow at the end of the post.

Agfa Silvertone 100 in Rodinal (1+100) 1 hour stand processing. Voigtlander R3A & VC Nokton 40mm.


The old and the new, the tall and the short, the soulful and the souless. You decide which is which.

Something very unexpected in China. I wasn't the only streetphotographer at the scene.

Even he was looking.

Tailor who also sells ice cream and bubble gum.

Guangzhou was preparing for the Aisan Games. Almost all streets were revamped completedly, by superficially sticking plastic tiles onto all front walls and wooden doors made of steel. It's all about the image.

The workers.

Business as usual for others.

Other last minute decorations.

Why do people want to walk in the middle of the road?

Despite all the new deco, there is nowhere else to hang laundry.

I haven't seen any ricksaws for ages. China has implemented some very strange policies in recent years. Motorbikes are now explicitly banned in cities like Guangzhou. This has forced people to go back to some of the more traditional modes of transport, like bicycles. Other people thought outside the box and started using the three-wheeled version instead (No officer, this is not a motorbike. It has three wheels.)

like this...

More air conditioning and creative laundry solutions.

International Finance Place. My kinda place.

The new stadium and TV tower standing at the ready to host the games. The air quality, however, was still debatable.

Check out that haze!

Some interesting architecture. The property market has gone through the roof in recent times. Imagine NY prices on third world income. Guess who are the people affording these places?

A street that's not crowded? No way... The rich people have it good here...

So chilled...

Youth Centre.

Easypix 200, same camera & lens
They were shooting some comercial for the games. You'd think that they'd get someone who can kick, and not someone in heels. But hey, appearance over practicality -- that's how things get done in China these days.

The stadium. Don't know what happened to the other half of it.

And then you walk closer. This is what's greeting the average Joes. Consider this a social statement.

There is no way in for the average Joes...

Haven't seen a large format camera for ages. He swore at me after I took the shot. You'd think that fellow photographers will cut each other some slack.

The Chan Academy. Was one of the oldest schools in Guangzhou. Now it's a museum.

I am trying to figure out what the red ribbon is for.

Inside the Chan Academy.

This shot made me feel like a peeping Tom.

Agfa Silvertone 100 in Rodinal (1+100) Stand 1 Hour, same camera and lens

I didn't finish my film before my trip to Beijing, and this got X-rayed a couple of times. Think the security guys saw this blob of metal in my bag and increased the X-ray strength to take a peep. Screwed up my film quite badly.

Last shot in Chan Academy. Such contrast between inside the academy and the old crumbling residential building just adjacent to it.

The alley just behind Chan Academy. In the hot summer months, people leave their front doors open to get some fresh air into their homes. They leave their security gates locked and hang a cloth up for privacy.

A barber shop on the side of the road. 4 RMB (approx 80c US) for a hair cut and 10RMB (approx $2) for hair dye.

I don't remember this scene at all, and I have no idea what those weird ghost images are. Maybe it's still a part ghost iof X-ray screw up.

Very early in the morning. On our way to Tianmen Square. Apparently the earlier you get there, the fewer people there are. And that is supposed to be a VERY good thing.

Some lanterns.

The effect of the X-ray is not quite as apparent in the later shots of this roll.

Yeah, I also don't get the point of statues when you can't read the descriptions.

Some memorials for the recent earthquake victims in Sichuan.

Such is the comercialisation and Westernisation of China... Contrast.

The watchful eyes over Tiananmen Square.

The early morning light was spectacular. The dust and pollution have settled overnight and the sun's rays can actually get through the atmosphere.

7AM. The line to go into Chairman Mao's memorial is already going around the square. And it's a big square. I didn't go in. The memorial houses the preserved body of Mao. However respected he is, or otherwise, it just feels creepy to stand in line to check out a dead body.

Tianmen the gate. In all it's morning glory. And X-ray has to go and mess it all up.

Don't know her from a bar of soap, but this big oversized sunglasses thing is really taking off in China.

People who are also just as interested in the memorial as I am...
Who on earth bring shopping bags to the Tiananmen Square? More importantly, why on earth are these stores open so damn early in the morning. Wait, more importantly, who on earth goes shopping this early in the morning?

The mother of all lines. Chinese people don't typically line up in such orderly fashion. In this case, they are under the watchful eyes of the police. (I can never tell the difference between the police and the Red Army.)

Another gate (Zhengyangmen, aka Qianmen) that sits directly South of Tiananmen.

The dude in the middle (the one behind the dude holding a jacket) has some impressive medals on him. A veteran paying respect to his beloved Chairman. He stands in the line like everyone else.

Chinese girls still believe in keeping their skin white. They associate dark skins with manual labour, blue-collared occupation and poverty. Hence the umbrella.

No idea what the dude was trying to do. The chick, like most people these days, cannot be separated from her connection to the world, even when she is "in the world".

The clock on the otherside of the road is the count-down to the Asian Games.

And still typing.

Tourist poses never cease to amuse me.

Boredom sets in.

The only person I asked to pose for me. I only asked to make sure that I didn't get arrested.

Don't know how the dude got the motorbike (yes, with two wheels) past the security perimeter. Oh, I forgot to mention that all people going into the square had to get their bags X-rayed (sorry film).

Monument to the People's Heroes. The Grear Hall of the People in the background.

Easypix 200, same camera and lens.

Self portrait. I was there.


Another "comrade".

Guardian lions -- found outside the homes of imperial palaces, imperial tombs, government offices, temples, and the homes of government officials and the wealthy. In this case, outside one of the houses in the "Forbidden City".

The crowds outside TaiHe Dian (the Hall of Supreme Harmony). Harmony is good.

More crowds. And they dress funny.

No crowds, because here they are forbidden. :)

The boundaries between the forbidden and the not forbidden.

Have to take a pic of the Chinese tourists taking a pic.

Very cool door nobbs. But door to what?

Has China really opened its doors to the outside world? Or is the outside world only being offered a peek?

Jingshan Park. North of the Forbidden City.

Looking back south again at the back entrance to the Gugong (Forbidden City) Museum.

Then we went to the military museum. Not very impressive though. The mascots for Guangzhou Asian Games are also on display here.

Beihai Park.

Had to wait for a long time to get some people to walk into the frame.

The wall of nine dragons. There are quite a few of these scattered around Beijing. Dragon = King in Chinese culture.

Kodak Tri-X in HC110 (1+31), 7min 30 sec. Same camera and lens.

Great Wall of China. Badaling Peak. Have to take the cable car up. It was too steep for a foot climb.

The cable car ride up.

Was still relatively early. Crowd was still small.

Looking down and across...

The crowds started picking up.

Then we got stuck. Crowd control was non-existent. People coming up decided that they didn't want to stick to the one side. People going down deided to do the same thing. Then before you knew it, nobody was going anywhere. Some idiot decided to scream "Let's just push." The people with brains quickly told him to shut up -- we were on a 45 degree incline. Any slippage and there will be a few hundred bodybags leaving the Great Wall.

Had to rescue this frame. Overexposed it accidently by 3 stops.

Cable car ride down.

Then we went tothe famous Bird's Nest of the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympic Games fame. Sorry, no wide angle lens and no colour film. Large crowds as usual.

The Watercube lit up. This was about 8pm.

And what do you know? A McDonalds right next to our national pride. Talk about preservation of character.

In true Chinese pretentiousness, the name of the hotel is "Pangu Seven Stars Hotel". I hope they don't lose a star at some point, or they will have a lot of name changes to their stationary.

And the big names are certainly there in the capital. Gucci, Mont Blanc, Luis Vuitton, Burberry, you name it. Their prices are approximately three times the NY prices for the same items. And yes, they still sell. Such is the contrast and disparity of wealth in China.

Clearance sale on the other side of the street.

The food market. Certainly interesting experience for the foreigners.

More shopping.

Fujifilm Superia 800 (for the dark night)

Continuing down the food market.

Local delicacies include smelly tofu (name is not very appetising)...

The locals are certainly enjoying the delicacies.

Foreigners need a beer to wash it down.

Food market just outside of a Chinese medicine company. A sign of things to come?

People are certainly posh.

Starfish. Don't ask, I don't know what it tastes like.

She had no idea what she got herself into.

Very interesting expressions.

They seem to be having fun.

The look of concern, or should I upgrade it to shock?

Tasty tasty!

Lamb & squid. Surf and turf!

Had enough of that. Back to the fashionable area.

Back to Zhengyangmen (aka Qianmen), where they tried to sell us some superstitious stuff.

More Western commercialisation in the heart of the Chinese cultural capital. I think that China will sell everything to the West if they were given a chance. A few years ago, they even had a Starbucks inside the Forbidden City. How's that for irony? Thankfully a lot of people put enough pressure on the city councils to get that removed.


Yes, this is still very much in the heart of the cultural capital.

Ah, look at the ruins just off of the beaten path. Contrast.

More contrast.

Poor old man. He seemed so clueless. He loves his camera, but he has a bad habit of moving the whole camera as he pushes down on the shutter release. Most of his shots consisted of grey skies and not much else. Here, he had blue skies -- still early in the morning.

YiheYuan (Summer Palace)

Interesting attire. Asians are sometimes fairly shameless where it comes to dress sense.


I wonder if he needs to see a chiropractor after carrying that camera / lens combination for the whole day. I wonder if she needs to do the same after carrying the baby the whole day.

I thought that tree was interesting at the time, but looking back, not so interesting.

They are allowed to have motorbikes in Beijing, apparently.

Cars. The luxury of the rich and pretentious in China. And the foolish. The government has introduced a law that rotates cars to minimise traffic. In effect, cars with even numbered plates can drive half the week, and the odd numbered plates drive in the other half of the week. I wonder if the rich don'thave two cars so that they can get the odd and even covered, so that they can drive any day of the week.


Sign: entry forbidden.

Then we visited the TV tower of Beijing. These people didn't want to pay the hefty price (by local standards) and waited for friends and family outside.

Cute, but I don't get the point of posing for a photo holding a camera. The TV tower turned out to be a big waste of money. Don't go there in the afternoon or you'll not see past 1 km.

Kodak Tri-X 400 in HC110 (1+31) 7 min 30sec, same camera and lens
Back to the street level.

Drove past Forbidden City again.

He must be doing something right. I must be doing something wrong. Very wrong.

Love the expression and the tones.

Chinese opera.

Decided to take a night walk to Tiananmen Square.

This column is supposed to have some significance. But I gorget.

People posing with their Chairman.

Her second pose looks significaantly better than the first pose.

I wonder how strict they are with their stances. What would happen if I had to toss a banana peel at him?

Wedding fashion show.

Then I got hungry and went back for more food.

Next day...

The home of the most corrupt official in Chinese history. They turned it into a museum, and it's arguably the most visited place in China. People are very much obsessed about and seduced by the money and the palace. It's massive and has over 150 halls. We're told that if you wanted to visit evey hall into the complex properly, it'd take over 3 months.

Look at all those people. Really difficult to frame a shot without the crowd.

The corrupt dude's garden. The only reason that there is no one else in the shot is that the back was a forbidden area, and since they are not Jesus, they couldn't walk on water.

Look at all those people trying to get into a cave to see a sign that says "prosperity". This sign is rumoured to have been the source of the corrupt dude's wealth.

I half expected some dudes to be camping up there.

Waited for about 5 minutes to get this shot. Waiting for crowds to discipate is almost impossible.
To think that all of this belonged to a single person...

Smoking is a huge social problem in China. So much so, that the government had to ask the tv and film industry to use less smoking scenes in their production work in an attempt to reduce the social glamour of smoking.

Then we went to a very different kind of museum. No more palaces of kings and empresses and corrupt rich dudes. This is a museum of a scholar. They recently made a movie of the dude: confucious. This is easily the quietest museum I've been to in the whole of China. One can almost sense that education is certainly taking a backseat to money in the modern Chinese culture.

Ancient "Supreme University"

Agfa Silvertone 100 in Rodinal (1+100) 1 hour standing, same camera and lens
The trees in this museum are old and they have all got some peculiar shapes.

No crowd. Whatsoever.

Confucius, the man himself.

People pay a fortune to have a wish tag put in this museum. Even in an education museum, the locals are relentless in their commercialisation.

Then I walked of this restaurant before the food arrived. I got sick from sitting in the restaurant for about 15 minutes whilst waiting. There was absolutely no ventilation and I was surrounded by about 60 smokers. There were signs on the walls that said "No Smoking", but no one paid any attention. No one enforced the signs neither. Instead of eating my lunch, I waited outside to photograph the inconsiderate bastards as they came out of the restaurant.

Spot the smokers... How many do you count?

How many now?

That's not an ashtray, but a broken pipe-handle. But it's now an ashtray.

Tiantan Park (Temple of the Heaven)

Crowds again

Wedding photoshoot. Best of luck to you both.

BTW, you look stunning.

People doing exercises in the park

Like I said, some attire is shameless.

Quite a popular sport, it would seem.


Hello little dude.

What's up with the hair, ladies?

Back to Guangzhou

Sun Yat-sen memorial

The city has put up some guidelines on social behaviour during the Asian Games: No spitting, no littering, no yelling, no vandalising. Yes, guidelines are needed. No, guidelines did not help.

Went to a temple in Guangzhou

I wonder what they are praying for.

Tea leaves. Prices have skyrocketed in recent times. As with all commodities in China, tea leaves are being horded by speculators. When they've horded so much that the demand far outstrips the supply, the leaves are resold at super-inflated prices.

Street life

Shopping district for the inferior products.

Cock man

The cock and the box(es)

"No taking your shirts off, especially if you're an ugly ass male" should be on the guidelines too, don't you think?

Shops compete for attention in many ways. Large signs is only one of them. Before the Asian Games, shop owners would employ women (only women) to stand outside of the shops to scream on the top of their voices to announce their low prices. Then they got hold of loud speakers. Then they got hold of loud speakers with recorders. Then they were told by the organising committees that they are no longer allowed to use lout speakers. Now they are back to just employing women.

A more upmarket cafe, where they sell bubble tea at relatively high prices for local standards. About 5 USD for a drink. Still cheaper than the Starbucks though -- they charge about USD8 for a coffee.

Interesting light.

More contrast.

The guidelines. Again. These things are everywhere.


Look, more guidelines.

On our way to Shaoguan and Danxia Mountains.

The Danxia Mountians are a set of over 1000 mountains that have peculiar shapes. It has World Heritage status, like the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and etc. Unlike other places on earth with similar World Heritage status, China has not tried to protect these places. Instead, the World Heritage status is used and abused commercially to attract even more visitors, thereby totally destroying the locations and achieves the very opposite intentions of the World Heritage declaration.

Fujifilm Superia 400, same camera and lens

It was windy.

The "Penis" mountain. It's said that people who want to get babies (or women who want to get hitched) pray to this rock for fulfillment of their wishes.

The local "Harley" gang.

Dried chickens

Dried ducks. Some disturbing stuff.

Boat ride

I am still waondering why there are weird shades of people on those pillars. So difficult to time it so that there aren't too many people in the shot. One is good.

There is no denying the beauty of the place. It would be so much better if there were less people yapping behind me as I took this shot.

Can never avoid the crowds...

"Dan Xia"

Something peaceful about this shot.

In Shaoguan, a little city. Main activity: selling rice. This is the most popular square where the locals come out everynight for misc activities.

I am not sure if a scooter counts as a motorbike.

But mabe they are allowed to have motorbikes.

That's the whole city. Right there.

Went to another temple.

Kentmere 400 in Rodinal (1+100) 1 hour stand processing, same camera and lens

Apparently there is some natural warm spring here. This is the resort. Didn't go for a dip though.
Incorrectly loaded film.

This concludes my trip to China.

Heading home through Hong Kong. The light show at the Avenue of Stars. Struggled to hand hold the camera shooting 400 film.

After a trip such as this, one is but forced to look back and reflect on the things that were seen.

China is a country of extreme contrast: mostly East but with a strong tint of the West, open and yet closed, independent yet isolated, sophisticated (technologically) but backwards (spiritually), wealthy and yet so poor.

After a couple of weeks in my homeland, I have come to the renewed realisation that the new image that China has created for itself, the symbol of prosperity and development, is all but a facade. One only needs to take a small trip off of the beaten path to see past the shiny plastic tiles and discover the decaying society that lies beneath it all.

The fundamentals of society are missing. China has become a materialistic country in so many ways.

I recall an incident where our tour guide yelled at the tour group for not respecting her, because we were looking out the window when she was introducing the city to us. This was shortly after we left a “shopping spot”, where she would get a huge commission if thegroup shopped. Of course, we did not, mostly because the group was not stupid enough to be duped into believing that we should spend the equivalent of one month’s salary on medicine that “cures all illnesses”.

Then there is the general disregard for other people. In this category, I include the lack of order, the smoking indoors when there are signs posted that forbids it, the pushing and shoving in queues (when there is one, and when there isn’t one), the loud swearing, the spitting in public (amongst other bodily functions), the young’s lack of respect for the elderly. I can carry on, and go into a lot more details, but I won’t.

I described my disappointments to a dear Chinese-Canadian friend when I returned. She still holds a lot of dearness for her homeland. In many ways, for her, it is still home, where her (and my) roots are.

“What did you expect? It is still a third world country, doesn’t matter how much it tries to pretend that it is not. They have not been told how they should behave in public. People are just not educated that way. You cannot compare it to countries like US, UK or Canada. You should compare it to other third world countries, like India.” She said.

And I guess that kind of sums it all up then. People are not educated. It’s a 3rd world country. It provides a justification (at least an explanation), or simply a convenient excuse, depending on how you look at it. I am in some ways, an African. I would argue that people in Africa are even less educated, but they still treat each other with respect (when they are not too busy shooting each other). It doesn’t take a lot of education to realise the benefits of treating others as one would like to be treated by others.

Having said that, I have heard few-too-many stories on this trip, of parents giving up everything for their children (not very uncommon with China’s one-child policy), only for their children to turn around and throw them to the streets. Admittedly, extremities like these are exceptions rather than the norm, but I do sense an increasing dependence of children on their parents. This is certainly not a fault of China’s, but a global phenomenon. It’s a trait of generation Y, that most tweens these days have this tendency to believe that society owes them everything, that their parents owe them everything. But I digress.

Other than that, the family value is certainly tangible. So the selfishness is mostly between strangers. Is this perhaps a reflection of the dog-eat-dog society in which one either kills or be killed? Is it any different in any large and competitive cities, say New York, where survival of the fittest is the order of the day? Is it just that they don’t bother with trying to hide their disrespect of others? I don’t know.

Of course, I am generalising. I am sure that there are plenty of nice people there. There has to be. It has a population of 1.3 billion people.

My street photography of China failed in a big way. I have not managed to catch any of my sentiments of the place, of the people. Is that an indication that I don’t know what my sentiments are?

So what did I take out of this trip? Not sure. Just another renewed realisation that I still have not found what I was looking for – my purpose and my sense of who I am. But I discovered something else – a realisation tht I am not the only one without an identity – that there is at least another 1.3 billion people out there with the same problem.

But then again, having the answer is not as imporant as asking the question.

Las Vegas is next.

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