Street Food, Kashgar

Kashgar Street Food

If not for the bilingual Arabic/Chinese signs, you would not know the city of Kashgar, Xinjiang province, is in China. Most of its citizens are Uighur, a Turkish-speaking Islamic people with a central Asian, rather than Chinese, culture. Tajik, Uzbek, Kyrgyz, and other nationalities are also common in the province. China contains about 90 ethnic minorities, most firmly within the Chinese zeitgeist. The Uighurs, and a few others, are considerably different, and visiting them is like leaving China behind.

One thing all Asian people have in common, it seems, is a rich street food tradition. The pungent smoke of sizzling kabobs is their best advertisement, so this Uighur vendor makes sure his smoke spreads well up and down the street.

Silk Road Sunset

Silk Road Sunset

An ancient stone fortress dominates the ethnic Tajik town of Tashkurgan, and to the north the imposing hulk of 7,000-meter Muztagh Ata sends it glacial fingers down steep clefts to the dry valleys below. This is Silk Road country, and traders have plied these routes for centuries as they shuttled costly goods between China and Europe. Things have changed, however. Silk and gunpowder are not longer the treasured commodities — now it is minerals and water. And, thanks to climate change, less water every year.

Tashkurgan — a surprising comfortable town for being so deep in the wilderness — and its regions find themselves torn between the interests of three billion people and their governments. The headwaters of eight important rivers are the new silk and gunpowder, and the diverse peoples of the region find themselves, as before, bystanders in a new struggle for resources.

Photo Series: Shanghai Tourism Tunnel Redeemed

Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 9

China possesses hundreds of man-made wonders that stagger the Western visitor…and a few wonders that fall a bit short. The Shanghai Tourism Tunnel is one of the latter. Connecting two popular visitor sights in Shanghai — the Bund and the Pearl Tower — with a tunnel under the Huangpu River, the light show along the mini-railway is a little underwhelming…until you see it through long exposures in a camera, that is. There, the lights and lines jump out at you in a psychedelic riot. It takes some experimenting to get the technique just right, and at 50 RMB a trip you want to catch on quickly. I gave it my best shot, and the results remind me of tie-dyed fabric.

Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 5
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 5
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 8
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 8
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 7
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 7
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 6
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 6
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 4
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 4
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 3
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 3
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 2
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 2
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 1
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 1

 

Man Mo Temple #1

Man Mo Temple Hong Kong

Man Mo is a Daoist temple in the Soho district of Hong Kong that is both a working place of worship and a tourist stop. Locals write their prayers on red tags, purchase a spiral incense strip, hang it from the ceiling, and by the time incense has burned their wish has probably been resolved. It is a very small place, making it visual feast and, at the same time, a photographer’s nightmare. I stop in every time I am in Hong Kong, knowing it will look a bit different each day.

This shot required virtually an entire day for me to get right — first, to find the right time of day for intriguing light; second, to be very, very patient while people weaved around the small room, in and out of shots, incense burned, and smoke drifted. The style of photography I do – completely natural, in uncontrollable conditions — requires being in the right place at the right time. Sometimes that happens spontaneously, serendipitously. Most of the time, however, it requires planning and patience and I have to work very hard at it. (Price Schedule B)

Fisherman, Zhujiajiao

Fisherman Zhujiajiao

Zhujiajiao is said to be the best “water town” in the Shanghai environs. The name means “Zhu family estate” and it is at least 1,000 years old. In the Yangtze River delta, canals are ubiquitous and every village is split by at least one, spanned by bridges and boats. Such old towns are now meccas for day trippers from the city, and are overrun with visitors and vendors. In Zhujiajiao, I wandered up the canal, getting away from town, and found a man on a skiff casting a wonderful fine mesh net on long poles, moving like some orchestra conductor stuck in adagio.

The grace of the image belies the difficulty of its capture. As he floated downstream, I had to follow on the opposite shore, climbing fences, jumping ditches and avoiding mayhem. At some point I may have stepped on a chicken. And of course I had to anticipate the right background. Eventually it all became perfect. (Price Schedule B)

Hong Kong Afternoon

I would call Hong Kong’s skyline one of the top five in the world for beauty and drama. I never get tired of its combination of hills, water, steel and optimism. Every year there is more to see, but it is more difficult to see because of increasing pollution. This trail on Victoria peak behind the Central district winds through dense forest, but provides an occasional view of this unique metropolis. But civilization has its downside in the brown haze that increasingly blocks the dramatic views. This evening I was lucky.

All is not well in Hong Kong, however. For both political and cultural reasons, Hong Kong residents are largely resisting assimilation into mainland China after its governance passed from Britain to China in 1997, leading to periods of civil disobedience and protest. For all its beauty and vitality, major changes for the small enclave of Hong Kong are inevitable. (Price Schedule F)

Blue Hour on the Bund, Shanghai

At Shanghai’s riverfront, the Bund, magnetic forces seem to compel all cameras to point east to the giant, gleaming towers of Pudong across the Huangpu River. Reversing the direction – shooting west from Pudong towards the Bund – never seems to work. The Bund falls flat, and Shanghai’s old colonial buildings are lost in the glass and glitter and the dark waters of the Huangpu.

One evening, in a lucky glance out a window from the Peace Hotel, I found this perspective. The warm tones of the old stones present a richness and sentiment the monumental glass towers will never have, while the gentle curve of the river brings the eyes back down to Earth. Shanghai locals really responded to this view — it seemed to capture the genuine spirit of the waterfront. Old Shanghai clearly has few things left to teach the New Shanghai. (Price Schedule D)

Huangshan West Sea, China

Huangshan West Sea, China

We all see them, the old Chinese scroll paintings depicting soaring, foggy, peaks with ancient pines, waterfalls dropping into mountain lakes, and we know it is the exaggerated fantasy allowed in art. But it’s not — it is real, and China’s Yellow Mountain, Huangshan, is the source of much of it. It is China’s most popular national park, and to visit is to know the country’s culture in a new way. For one thing, China’s engineers know how to build scary-but-safe trails on the faces of huge cliffs, and dare you to walk on them.

The overnight visitor learns that every pinnacle, crevice, cliff and promontory has its own weather. The wind and cloud that careens through the mountains interacts with every feature differently. Thus, when I went out early one morning into the storm covering the dramatic Huangshan gorge known as the West Sea, I knew not to give up. As I hiked along a narrow ledge, conditions got lighter but not better, and I began to think about turning back to a warm cup of tea. But Huangshan had other plans. I rounded a bend at a canyon overlook and the clouds swirled in the wind, allowing brief glimpses of one of China’s most fantastic landscapes. (Price Schedule B)

At Last a Redeeming Use for the Shanghai Tourism Tunnel #9

Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 9

China possesses hundreds of man-made wonders that stagger the Western observer…and a few wonders that fall a bit short. The Shanghai Tourism Tunnel is one of the latter. Connecting two popular visitor sights in Shanghai — the Bund and the Pearl Tower — with a tunnel under the Huangpo River, the light show along the mini-railway is a little underwhelming…until you see it through long exposures in a camera, that is. There, the lights and lines assault you in a psychedelic riot. It takes some experimenting to get the technique just right, and at 50 RMB a trip you want to catch on quickly. I gave it my best shot, and the results remind me of tie-dyed fabric. (Price Schedule E)

Fishing Under the Bridge, Tunxi

Fishing Under the Bridge, Tunxi

Summer days are hot in Tunxi, Anhui Province, the gateway town to China’s Huangshan National Park. Under the bridge over the Xin’an River is not only a great place to tie up your boat, but to find some shade and fish a bit. Really, it’s too hot to do anything else. (Pricing Schedule D)

Xidi Gate, Monochrome

One of China’s most rural provinces, Anhui, is an absolute treasury of old China culture and history. Huangshan National Park, Tunxi old town, Hongcun ancient village, and this priceless spot — Xidi ancient town — are worth many days spent in discovery on the Anhui back roads. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Xidi is my favorite old town in China, and a large part of that is wonder at this ancient town gate. There is nothing else like it from old China. Its official name is “Memorial Archway of the Governor,” and it dates from the Ming Dynasty, about 1300 years ago. Just steps away is a row of old habitations from the same date that have been converted to accommodations for travelers. Not hard to guess where I stayed in Xidi. (Price Schedule G)

Welcome to Xidi

One of China’s most rural provinces, Anhui, is an absolute treasury of old China culture and history. Huangshan National Park, Tunxi old town, Hongcun ancient village, and this priceless spot — Xidi ancient town — are worth many days spent in discovery on the Anhui back roads. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Xidi is my favorite old town in China, and a large part of that is wonder at this ancient town gate. There is nothing else like it from old China. Its official name is “Memorial Archway of the Governor,” and it dates from the Ming Dynasty, about 1300 years ago. Just steps away is a row of old habitations from the same date that have been converted to accommodations for travelers. Not hard to guess where I stayed in Xidi. (Price Schedule G)

Cycling to the Hanerik Market

Cycling to the Hanerik Market, western China

Xinjiang Province, China, is different than the rest of the country in just about any way you care to name. The only way you know you are still in China is that signs are printed in Chinese as well as Arabic script. Among its most striking features are the tall poplar trees that grow thick along the river courses as they flow down from the Kunlun and Pamir mountain ranges.  Rural roads that wind through these groves create atmospheric corridors through which all manner of life passes.

Hanerik is a small town famous for its weekly livestock market. I was on my way there and when I encountered these arching green corridors. I stopped and photographed them for a hour or two. All manner of colorful traffic passes along the road to Hanerik — motorbikes, donkey carts, truckloads of goats — but this lone cyclist was a most simple and interesting subject. (Pricing Schedule F)

Waiting for the Bus to Kashgar

Xinjiang Province, China, is different than the rest of the country in just about any way you care to name. Among its most striking features are the tall poplar trees that grow thick along the river courses as they flow down from the Kunlun and Pamir mountain ranges. Rural roads that wind through these groves create atmospheric corridors through which all manner of life passes.

I was photographing the colorful traffic along the road to Hanerik — bicycles, donkey carts, truckloads of goats — but out of the woods came the most charming traffic of all, a couple waiting for the bus going the other way, to Kashgar. He wore a suit. She wore red, and used the suitcase for a chair. (Pricing Schedule F)

Longji Rice Terraces, China

Longji Rice Terraces, China

Longji means “Dragon’s backbone” in Mandarin; an apt name for the repetitive terraces which snake up and down steep ridges of the remote Longsheng region of Guangxi province, China. This shot if from one of my best and worst days of photography. After enduring a couple days of tedious travel, encountering pouring rain and zero visibility, hiking steep trails while soaking wet and cold, you are sure that the day and trip is wasted and nothing is going to look good. Then, when the mood is most bleak, the storm lifts and beautiful vistas emerge. You have to become suddenly energetic and quick to capture scenes that will only exist for a few minutes. It’s the best and the worst, together. It’s landscape photography. (Pricing Schedule C)

Hanging Out in Zhangmu

The sudden elevation loss from the Tibetan plateau to the Nepali forest takes the overland traveler by surprise. The barely-passable roads through twisted terrain of the Koshi River gorge ensure a slow trip, meaning that one will certainly have to spend the night at a cliffside village such as Zhangmu or Kodari. The drama of arriving on a black, muddy, rain-soaked night, then waking in the morning to a scene such as this is beyond description.

The village is in China, the terrain in Nepal. The prominent sign in the picture advertises KTV, a Chinese term for Karaoke bar, beloved of Asian businessmen. (Pricing Schedule F)

Street Player, Beijing

I sat a while and watched this street musician in a hutong (old neighborhood) near the Drum Tower in Beijing, listening to his melodious but wistful sound. He was in a very small alley without much traffic, and I got the feeling he wasn’t really looking for an audience, he just liked to play. He was blind in one eye, very quiet and subdued, and his old blue Mao jacket matched his ancient face.

He stopped to tune his instrument and a common scene suddenly became perfect. His hand went to the top of the strings, out of the picture, and his head bent the opposite direction as he listened for very slight tone changes. The bow and the neck formed a beautifully inclined right angle. As he did this, something about him was revealed. (Price Schedule G)

Procession

A slice of life at Yufo Chan Sih (玉佛禅寺), the Jade Buddha Temple, Shanghai. One of my favorite places to hang out because it is mostly a working temple and not so much for tourists — and it has a great vegetarian restaurant. Once a week, after prayers, a long line of monks snakes through the temple following an elder, blessing every room.

I made this shot impulsively and without thinking through my camera settings, so I was certain it was blurry and hopeless. Even when I took another look on camera playback, I saw nothing worth saving, and I could easily have deleted it at that time. Later, on the computer, I saw the single sharp image of one monk, and the photo went from the bottom of the heap to the top…faster than a prayer. (Price Schedule D)

Hong Kong Night

I would call Hong Kong’s skyline one of the top five in the world for beauty and drama. I never get tired of its combination of hills, water, steel and optimism. Every year there is more to see, but it is more difficult to see because of increasing pollution. This lookout on Victoria peak behind the Central district is the most popular, for obvious reasons. This particular evening was one of the clearest I’ve ever seen there. I was lucky, and so are you.

Less well known on Victoria Peak are the hiking trails that wind through the forest, here and on all the peaks of Hong Kong. Well-maintained, they allow you to walk for hours and forget you are surrounded by a crowded metropolis. (Price Schedule E)

Gyantse Dzong

The idea of a fortress in Tibet is an oxymoron to most people. The Tibetan people and culture carry such a stereotype of peace and non-violence that it is hard to imagine what they would want with a fortress. In truth, the Tibetans have a history of both conquest and subjugation over the last 2,000 years, involving various military campaigns in Mongolia, western China and northern India.

In the early years of the 20th Century a British military campaign attempted to subjugate Tibet and was stoutly resisted from the 625-year old Gyantse dzong (fortress). The defenders prevailed for a few years, until the British returned and eventually captured the fort with many Tibetan losses. Damaged by the British, it was further stripped bare during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and has harbored a forlorn beauty ever since. One of the buildings how houses a modest museum commemorating resistance to the British invasion. (Pricing Schedule E)