So I have to say, after seven weeks here, I feel much more adjusted to life in the city. The first three weeks were incredibly overwhelming and exhausting; however, as I have met people and been forced to go out into the city along the many arms of the metro, I find myself unphased by the madness. I am used to the stares, the head turns and the muttered whispers. I have also met some really nice people over the past few weeks. First, there is Javier Miqueleiz, a Spanish photographer who came to Guangzhou for a few weeks last spring and decided to move here and is making it as a photographer here. He is an incredibly brave and passionate photographer with a firm dedication to film photography although he as well is very knowledgeable about studio lightings and all the aspects of the digital realm. Please check out his website: http://www.jmiqueleiz.com/
Then there is his girlfriend, Hitomi Ko, who just rocks! She is from Dongguan, one of the many Chinese cities of over 8 million inhabitants that you and I have never heard of. She has a degree in product design but has been devoting herself to photography for the past six months and just a month ago was strong enough to quit her job so she can devote herself fulltime to photographing. Her website: http://www.hitomiko.com/ Both look better on browsers other than Internet Explorer. Last Saturday we went together to Redtory again and met up with a policeman who is shooting with an 8x10 camera. After the shoot, Javi had to leave so Hitomi and I were invited to go down to where the 8x10 photographer lives (for those who do not know photography, 8x10 means the size of the film is 8x10 inches in size) So we ride with him and pick up one of his friends and child along the way, get to his apartment and then all these people come. I was sitting there like ok what have I gotten myself into. Well, what I got myself into was a thoroughly amazing afternoon. We went out to eat China-style...which is so the best way to dine ever! So, you go to a restaurant and in the middle of the table is a glass circle slightly raised that turns. A bunch of dishes are ordered and they slowly start arriving. The glass plate is turned to let everyone eat out of the dishes, it is polite to turn the food so others can eat first. So we get there, wine is poured, and the food starts coming and it keeps coming and coming and coming and the guys are drinking and wanting the girls to chug down the wine as well, lots of glass clinking and toasting. Of course the eating is done with chopsticks which sometimes seems to work for me and then others I fail miserably...this time was a mix. I didn't embarass myself too much! I have to say, it was the best time I have had in China. Only Hitomi and one other woman actually spoke any kind of English but everyone was so welcoming and friendly and it felt good to experience the Chinese at a level more intimate than that acquired by passing them on the streets or standing next to them in the subway. Later Hitomi and I went out to photograph while the others hung around drinking tea and chattting. The first time we went shooting, I had my Holga camera with me and it was the impetus for Javier and Hitomi to both get Holgas themselves and they have a site they just started with their Holga work where you can yours truly (yes me) making ridiculous faces per usual... http://www.wedonthink.com/ I was also introduced by them to a Canadian photographer, Kale Taylor, who is doing some great street photography and who is also passionate about film photography. He has just put up a new site: http://www.clear-photography.com/ Tomorrow he is allowing me to use his set-up to process some black and white film I have shot. He is also teaching photography here and was kind enough to let me come with him on one of his teaching days. It has been so great to meet people so in love with film photography, I feel inspired by them and feel really lucky to have met them. That is the thing about traveling, it is rarely the museum or castle or park that stays with you or that makes the whole venture worthwhile; it is the conversations with the other travelers that you meet, it is the moments where you get a slight glimpse of the real life of the host country you are in ( the moments when you force yourself to eat boiled chicken feet to not offend), meeting people open to the difference in others, that is best! Here I have met people living bravely, making the hard choice and staying open to finding their way to their dreams. It has been a good reminder of things I knew at 24 that I have slowly been losing as I have tried to become a responsible adult (although I seem to fail at that miserably:) Anyways, enough words, below are a few photos I took on walks this week, through nightclubs during the day and quiet parks on edge of giant business fairgrounds.
So went to Hong Kong this past Wednesday, partly for visa reasons and partly to see the famed city. My expectations were not that high as in my mind it was just another big city. So to my delight, I was surprised and absolutely loved the place. It is that perfect mix of city with enough nature around that one feels one can escape easily. The mountains and the sea encircle the city, my favorite combination of geographical features, much like Barcelona but more extreme. For those who think of Hong Kong as just a city on a small island, I will say a bit about the geography. There are two parts to the city, one on the mainland which is called Kowloon and then one over on the island one thinks of as Hong Kong. Both sides of the city are connected by metro and ferry so it is very easy to go back and forth. We stayed on the Kowloon side by the harbor, with easy access to the train station and most of the museums. The city on both sides is ringed with huge mountains and the streets on the island side are very hilly and steep. We started out at the Hong Kong history museum which is a great museum that starts with how Hong Kong looked in prehistoric times and takes on all the way forward to the present. Then we took the metro over to the island part and went up to Victorias Peak which took ages and then some. It was so crowded but certainly worth the view. Afterwards we went and had the best Indian food, it was heavenly, at a restaurant called Jadan's in the Soho district. Hong Kong has such an international feel, no one looks at a foreigner as a rare event, like in Guangzhou and so it was pleasant to just be one in the great big anonymous crowd. The next day we went to one of the other islands of Hong Kong, Lantau Island, with the intent to take a very long cable car ride up to see a Big Buddha statue. Unfortunately, the cable car was closed so we were packed into a bus with screaming kids as we trekked up the very steep landscape for the next hour. The monastery and Buddha statue were pretty much tourist traps but the scenery was amazing and made the trip completely worth it. All in all I cannot wait to go back for a longer period of time and explore the many other islands of Hong Kong as well as more of the city.
The best days are those in which the unexpected comes crashing in to bring you fun in a way that often does not happen when fun is held as an expectation. Today was one of those days. So, first of all, I am totally in love with Google Earth. I have been obsessively perusing the districts of Guangzhou via satellite imagery for the past week as rain has kept me indoors. So today, we headed out to a far out spot on one of the metro lines with the only intent being to be outside of the city and for me to judge photo opportunities for future shoots. However, as we left the metro station, what did we see? A big sign saying Guangzhou Crocodile Park with a big arrow pointing to our right. Well, I had read about this park and but there seemed no easy way to get there so was planning on letting it pass. However, upon the seeing the sign, it was instant excitement!!! I love reptiles!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Amphibians are excellent as well. So off we trudged down a very, very, very long road until we reached the park. I personally had a blast though it was pretty cold and the rain did start up again.
So the pictures below are from a very un-China-like place that I went to last week called Redtory. This area used to be a canning factory but it has been renovated into a complex full of art galleries, design studios, little cafés, and other arts related businesses. It is very quiet and feels like a haven from the busy sounds of the city, I felt a peace I had not felt in a while walking around for the hour that I was there. Other than that life has been pretty quiet here, the weather has been mostly rainy for the past week. Christoph and I have a park we have been trying to get to for days now. Everytime the sky lightens, we bundle up and head on out but inevitably before we hit the bridge we need to cross to enter the park, the sky opens up and we resignedly do a 180. However, we tend to stop at the 7-eleven and pick up Kinder Buenos (yummy German chocolate bar with hazelnut in the center) so I cannot really complain. The town is pretty quiet this week as it was Chinese New Year on the 23rd and many Chinese return home to their families for the week.
So let me tell you about the experience of driving/riding in a car in China. For those who know the scene from Finding Nemo where all the seagulls dive for the fish screaming "Mine" repeatedly....well, actually it is rather akin to that. Its like everyone screaming me first and driving their cars into the melee, cars just converge on eachother into within a distance of maybe an inch or less....lanes are just created or you just go in the lane of the opposite direction if you are in a hurry. The horn is ever present, it even kind of sounds like Me! Me! Me! Me! Me! Me! To make it even more interesting, if you look in the photos below, you will see lots of small, decrepit looking bits of scrap metal posing as transportation vehicles....and yes, these are on the road too and there is no concept of the slow lane so there is a constant interweaving, sessions of honking, and sometimes even going over to the median to go around. Whats even more fun is they often like to turn left when cars are coming at them straight on, traffic lights are more suggestions to stop rather than indicating a rule to stop it would seem. Then throw all the mopeds, wandering dogs and disobeying pedestrians into the mix and oh man, we are talking some fun here! The horn is also used incessantly because they are not big fans of driving between the lines so the horn has the added meaning of "I am here don't squish me!" so pretty much there honking when passing most cars as well. The interesting thing, and the rather nice thing is that it is not taken personally. No one flips the finger or screams or rages; nobody takes offense at it, which is rather nice. It is not meant to insult the other persons driving it is just each person is trying to get what they want and the horn is the form of communication they use. I kind of appreciate that because I get rather tired of using the horn in appropriate situations, like hey the light turned green please stop texting (and getting flipped off and then them staying there even longer) or hey please don't come in my lane because I am here, and again getting this reaction like I am jerk for using my horn. Here there is no power struggle acted out in the context of driving. It is crazy, nobody follows the rules, it is intense yet there are not the accidents we have in the sSates where everything has been made so easy that no one thinks about what they are doing or appreciates the damage they could do with their inattention.