Monday, January 19, 2015

China Today: A photographic journey


On my first day in Hekou China, I noticed that there were a lot of stray animals roaming around. While I know that in many European countries animals tend to roam free, I did not realize it would be the same in China. So to me, this was a surprise.

At home, seeing a stray is very uncommon because as soon as they are spotted, they are taken to the pound. We seem to have a very different concept of animals in America than the people of China do. We spay and neuter our animals as well as get them routine vet care. While some of the animals I saw seemed relatively healthy externally, there were a few that it was obvious they were not in the best of shape, and I doubt any are taken for vet care. Another interesting thing that I noted was that every female dog I came across had visible signs of nursing either currently or recently, so the reason for the overpopulation of strays I was noticing throughout the day was apparent.

Seeing all sorts of animals on the street really intrigued me and peaked my interest into shooting on this overcast day. I was still suffering from a bit of jet lag and was very worn out, but animal shots are my favorite to capture and I really enjoyed seeing all of the creatures Hekou had to offer me.

While there were many dogs, I also came across cats, roosters, hens, and I noticed a herd of ten water buffalo on the other side of the river. The roosters were captivating to me. I am not a bird person whatsoever, but the coloring of the roosters was too incredible to not capture.

While some of the dogs seemed to be particularly friendly, the cats did not. They stayed to themselves and had their ears straight out to the sides, a clear sign of unhappiness in a feline. From a photography standpoint, I really enjoyed seeing how comfortable all of the animals were in their surroundings. The cats, for example, hung around some visually interesting architecture.

After seeing so many stray and homeless animals, it was a shock to me to come across two dogs, each having different owners, that were actually leashed and wearing some sort of outfit. After seeing the disconnect many seem to have here to their animals here in Hekou, I was surprised to see some very “American” behavior when it came to dressing up dogs. I feel like this lack of animal obsession was one of the first ways I truly realized how different this culture is from my own, where each pet is pampered and treated as family. I got a sense that most dogs, if “owned” are around to provide protection, and in doing so they are very loyal, but there are very little house pets as we would be used to seeing back in the United States.

Another thing that I noticed about these animals is that they were either very friendly or very timid. Of course, there was not petting allowed due to the lack of veterinary care and the risks that come along with that, but there were a few dogs that came right up to me and there were others that stayed back and kept their distance. I would believe that this has to do with the lack of socialization between the people and dogs here. These distinctions in the animals’ personalities did allow me to capture different types of photographs though, and for that I was very enthusiastic and grateful for.

One of the most fun parts of my day in Hekou was seeing so many people who were very interested in me getting pictures of them. Although there is a language barrier, I have never met a group of people so willing and excited to have me take a picture of them. I am really enjoying that aspect of being in China because I really enjoy portraiture of all kinds. This woman was walking along the pathway of the railway picking plants to bring home. I could not believe how this woman, who had never met us before, would be so accepting of having her photo taken while also inviting all 14 of us back to her home.

Another thing I noticed about these people is that even though they are all working, they were so willing to stop what they were doing for a moment and let us photograph them. I found their pleasant attitude to be very admirable.

Everywhere we went we were hearing hello’s and receiving smiles. If I take anything away from this trip, I want it to be that these people, some the poorest of poor, can live with great attitudes and that is something to really try to emulate back in the states where everyone is too busy to stop and enjoy the things that they do have. After only one day, I can already tell that this is a very welcoming and very hardworking group of people. This man was doing what seemed like very hard labor; moving those large rocks could not have been an easy task. But, even though he was doing this work, he was more than willing to stop and smile for a brief moment to allow us to get some shots of him.

I cannot get over how beautiful the scenery in Hekou was. The colors were so vivid and full of life, just like the people. The landscape was full of visual interest. Just in these photograph alone there are buildings, rock, dirt, greenery, and water. I have never seen so many beautiful things in just one space.

On our way to breakfast, there were many people in the streets preparing food. This woman stood out to me. She was working very hard, but took the time to let our tour guide know what food she was handling. I found her to be such a beautiful person, even though it seems as though she was one of the less fortunate in terms of money in this city. Those people, I feel, were the most kind hearted and welcoming that we dealt with. The difference in the people between here and in America is astounding and it is so refreshing to see. Although we have such a language barrier, I feel very comfortable around these people. I loved the smiles and the waves. I was surprised by how many take the time to know some English. More of these people than I expected were able to say hello. I was very impressed by this because I know that in our country, most people do not take the time to do this for any foreigners.

After a long bus ride up the huge mountain filled with curving roads, we made it to our first destination. With a little bit of hiking, we made it to Quing Ku. This little folk village was filled with people who, to me, were very different from the ones we saw in Hekou in both appearance and personality. These were people who were of a much darker skin tone because of their very hard daily labor outdoors farming in the reservoirs. These people also were very smart and apparently learned at a young age that tourists want to get photographs and that for that to happen, the tourists must pay. I appreciate their understanding, but it also made it difficult. A lot of them seemed greedy and would not only take two or three yuan.

One woman was given twenty yuan and still wanted more. I understand and respect that they need to survive, but for us on a photography tour of China it was a little disheartening because that is not exactly how I want to spend my money while I am here. Although the people were like this though, I was able to get a few good shots in the folk village.

One other thing I noticed right away was how all of the women were doing the work. The men were always sitting around either talking, smoking, or playing cards. It seemed very unfair to me, but I do understand that it is the tradition of this new world I am in. Another thing I noticed which I did not think was fair was that the parents, seeing that there were American tourists in the village, dressed their children up in traditional clothing knowing we would want to take pictures and then asking us for money after. I was able to come across a little girl who seemed very interested in me. She loved getting her picture taken and loved it more when I would show her. I noticed that after I stopped taking photos she started to hang on me a little. Her mother, seemed okay with the photographs and did not as for compensation, which is why I was taking shots. It was only when an older woman came over that they started asking, They were relentless. It was an interesting experience though and I was happy to see a different side to the people. They were still as friendly as those in Kunming and Hekou, but these people knew that we could provide some of their livelihood and they were not afraid to ask for it.

After touring the folk village and doing a little shopping, we went to Tiger Mouth to watch the sunset. While there, I realized that I was staring at one of the most beautiful places I will ever see in my life. I felt so lucky to be on this trip as I took in the absolutely breathtaking scenery. I wished that the sunset could have been a little bolder, but there was some dense cloud coverage so the light reflections off the water were not as strong as they could have been. However, I did notice a change in the coloring of some of the reservoirs.

While the view from all the way up top was incredible, I found my favorite part of the day was making the trek down the 300 stairs to see it from that lower angle. While both positions were panoramic, I really enjoyed the lowest level off to the left hand side. Even though what we were looking at was the same concept as what we saw earlier on in the day, it was magnified ten fold.

There were so many more of the reservoirs that were so much closer together, and looking at them from so high up versus being right on top of them made all the difference in my opinion. I thought they were beautiful straight on, but could not have imagined I would have seen such a beautiful sight just by being high up on a mountain overlooking them. I really enjoyed the ones with red in them. The reds and the greens looked so beautiful together. The colors were really just spectacular. I could not have imagined a better way to end the day. I wish we could have gone back to see the sunrise, because maybe then the cloud cover would not have been so dense and the reds could have truly come out on the water. Although we did not get that opportunity, I was happy with what we saw the evening before.

The Bisezhai railway station, built by the French Government in 1910, became a major way to export goods such as copper, phosphate, tin, zinc, lead, silver, and gold. I found it to be a very interesting environment and also very different from the railway station we encountered in Hekou. Instead of all of the greenery surrounding the Old Railway Station in Hekou, the Bisezhai railway station in Mengzi was much more of a barren and abandoned environment.

I enjoyed how the train tracks were one meter wide. I really like the wider rails versus the thinner ones. The railway also allowed for easy transport for the people from country to country and city to city, so I found this fascinating as I really like when innovation occurs.

One thing I was very happy to see today, which was pointed out to me by Mr. Nixon, our tour guide, was that the old rail master was sitting beside the rails. I found out he was the rail master of this station for sixteen years (1970-1986) and even though he is now retired, he still comes to sit.

This just really put a lot into perspective for me in terms of how this culture works and how dedicated they remain to their jobs. Even though this man has not been rail master for 29 years, there he sat looking content as ever. I could not believe that at first. But seeing how hard these people work on a daily basis, I could see why he was so attached to this place. It was a beautiful sunny day and I am sure he just felt bliss sitting there watching everyone visit the place he was rail master over for so many years.

Coming to China, I expected to see a lot of pagodas. Everything I have ever seen on China either featured dragons or pagodas, so I was surprised that that was not the case. But today, we finally saw some. They were so beautiful and more than I ever could have expected. Pictures do not do them justice. I could not believe the intricate detailing that is on them and the colors are so vivid and beautiful. I also really appreciate the shaping of them based on an architectural standpoint. I love interesting and unique looking buildings and pagodas definitely fit that. Seeing some of the lower class buildings from the bus and then seeing these amazing architectural feats shocked me because it was like day and night. I felt like I had gone from one world to another in a short forty minute bus ride. I think my favorite thing about them is the pointed edges and the detailing that can be seen if you were to stand underneath and look up towards the roof. The colors also really stand out to me because I am drawn to bright colors. I loved that these pagodas were built around the South lake because I just believe it enhanced their beauty as the sunlight bounced off of the water and reflected highlights and created shadows.

Today while in Bisezhai on the bus going to the railway station I noticed something that made me second guess what I was seeing. I noticed almost every dog I saw out the window was wearing a collar. I did not think too much of it as we continued on our way, but then once we got the the French gardens and I noticed a pet shop it clicked. This area of China seemed to have a bit of a different view on their animals, especially dogs.

Upon going into the pet shop, myself, Vicky, and Natalie came upon puppies as well as older dogs for sale. The shop also had harnesses, leashes, and dog houses. This to me was so different than the experiences I had in Hekou and Yuanyang when it came to animals. In those cities, dogs roamed free and nobody really bothered with them. But on the bus I noticed the dogs had collars and I even saw a young boy rubbing the stomach of a dog and playing around with it.

This type of interaction felt right at home for me as this is how we treat our pets. The biggest thing that shocked me though was that they had a pet store. I really thought that people just found dogs on the street and maybe fed them to lure them to their homes or out to the fields with them. I had no idea that they could be bought. While these dogs were not in the absolute best of conditions, they still seemed better off than those just freely roaming the streets. This pet store find was a gem for me though as I learned a new thing about China. I came here not even knowing if animals would be roaming and now I am able to see that some roam freely and some come from shops; it all just depends on what city you are in it seems. Of course being in there made me want to take them all home with me, but it was the surprise of the day for me and I am happy I noticed the pet store so that I could be educated on the fact that this country does indeed sell dogs in stores. If I did not find this place, I would still be thinking that people just found a dog they wanted from the street and brought it home.

One thing I noticed upon my arrival in China that I thought was odd was the amount of clothing I was seeing hanging outside to dry. To me, this seemed odd for several reasons. First, I am not used to seeing people hang their clothing outside to dry, second, it seemed rather counter productive to hang clothes out to dry when the air is filled with dirt and smog, and third, I wondered why, if the Chinese make our clothing dryers back at home, they do not have the dryers here?

I assumed it is a money thing, but was not positive. I know that now that we are back in Kunming we were told of a laundry facility underneath our hotel that does laundry and dries and irons them for you if you desire. Of course, it is for a fee, but that is when I first heard or saw any talk of a dryer.

Although I find it to be odd, I actually really like to look at the clothing here. It is interesting to see the variety that people hang. In Hekou, I really only noticed typical clothing, but on our second day back in Kunming where the sun was shining and the weather was warm, I noticed the workers uniform seen above, normal clothing, and undergarments for the first time. While I still find it to be odd that they make dryers and do not really use them, it seems to resonate with other things I have noticed that they make but do not use. Although China is a superpower and the leading manufacturer of basically everything that we use in American society, they seem to me, to be somewhat behind in terms of what they have. I would think it is because they cannot afford to own these things themselves, but the concept just seems very foreign to me.

Regardless of the reasonings behind why they do not have the modern luxuries that they make, I love looking at the clothing hanging and I think each line of clothing has its own story. Village clothing is very different from the clothing we see in the city, and it has been different places and been on people doing different tasks. So I really like seeing it, it is just that it seems so weird to me to hang them.

— Angela McCavera, art history major #HuskyAbroad

Led by Vera Viditz-Ward, professor of art and art history, and Jing Luo, Ph.D., professor of languages and cultures, a group of Bloomsburg University students spent three weeks in China studying language, culture and photography. The group, hosted by Yunnan Normal University, traveled to Kunming, Hekou, Yuanyuang, Mengzi, Dali, and Lijiang, where they had close contact with a variety of ethnic groups and learned about their lives and cultures.


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