What I’ve Been Up To

I haven’t blogged in quite some time, but it’s the end of the semester and I thought I’d share some of the photography  I’ve been working on. Below is a selection of photos from the semester, including images I made in response to weekly assignments from one of my classes and everyday photos of my housemates.

In addition, I created a book from a selection of my photos from Hong Kong, a process that taught me a lot about how I make work, what kind of photos I take, and why I take them. It also was a good lesson in sequencing and storytelling, and it feels really good to have a final tangible product that I can hold in my hands. You can see the images on my website.

Blogging is a pretty egotistical act in some ways.

The View From the 25th Floor

It has been just about a week since I returned from Hong Kong. Already my time there feels incredibly long ago, as if I am looking back at my memories across a vast open ocean. It is scary how quickly I have returned to my old routines, hanging out with my friends and walking the grounds of Tufts as if I never left. But there can be no denying that for almost 5 months, I lived a completely different life in Hong Kong. There is no way I can coherently or succinctly summarize what my time in HK has meant to me or the impact it has had on my life. Reading some of my previous posts (and future posts, I’m trying to play catch-up) might give you some kind of idea. But it truly is an experience that goes beyond words.

With Hong Kong already feeling so distant, I am glad I have my photographs to return to. No matter how much my memory might fade, my images will stick around. And as I look back through my photographs, one scene reappears again and again: the view out of my window on the 25th floor. I had never lived so high in the clouds, and I may never again. In the morning I would look down on the basketball courts and watch little figures practicing their tai chi. In the afternoon eagles glided in lazy circles past my window. And at night I listened to the chorus of invisible frogs that croaked from the dark shadow of Mount Davis. And despite the fact that I had access to that view every day, I continued to take pictures out my window, a testament to the beauty of the view. From the first morning I awoke in my dorm room to watch the morning sun light up Mount Davis and the distant harbor, to my last night when I looked out at the familiar glowing squares of light from the nearby apartments, the view out my window never failed to make me smile.

Over the years I have learned that if I continue to photograph something over and over, it must be something worth investigating. My teachers have always told me to keep shooting until the magic is gone and I am no longer interested in what is in front of my lens. That never happend with my view of Hong Kong from my dorm window, and I doubt it ever would.

Protests in Istanbul After Police Crackdown on Activists

Will:

The events in Istanbul have escalated incredibly quickly in the past few days, with a revolution now at hand. There are many interesting underlying stories about the protests, including the silence of the traditional media and the coverage of these events by internet sites like reddit and imgur. But what is most interesting to me is that all this started because the government was going to destroy one of the last remaining green spaces in the city to make room for a mall. Obviously the people of Turkey are angry about more than just the building of one more mall; they are fed up with the entire regime of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But it should not be overlooked that the last straw, the thing that pushed them over the edge, came when their last remaining park was threatened. It is symbolic, I believe, of increasing worldwide frustration with governments that continue to destroy natural environments and green spaces for the sake of development and urbanization. At the very least, it is a powerful message about what people truly value: open community space, fresh air, and a direct connection to the earth.

Originally posted on World:

Activists agitating against the construction of a shopping mall in a park in Istanbul were violently dispersed by Turkish police. The move triggered mass protests in Turkey’s largest city as well as demonstrations elsewhere, now channeling widespread frustrations and anger with the rule of the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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Guizhou (Only A Month Late)

I know I’m late but…

At the end of March I went back to China, only this time the Tufts group travelled to Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province. And while I had been to Beijing and Shanghai a month earlier, somehow this was more ‘real’ China than before. I thought that because I had already been to China that culture shock would not be so bad, but it was still a slap in the face. One of the poorer regions of China, poverty is a lot more visible than Beijing.  

We were part of a tour group, with the Tufts students taking up 80% of the spots; I feel bad for the few other women who were stuck with the loud Americans. Our tour guide did not speak english, but for some reason we still had to pay her. I would’ve liked to have known what I was looking at as we drove through the countryside but most of the time I just ended up sleeping. The first day we drove 3 hours out to a government-sponsored minority village, which was uncomfortable at times. The first thing we saw was rows of older women dancing; or rather shuffling their feet to the dissonant, spine-tingling music being produced by some kind of devilish chinese violin. I honestly thought one of the women was going to cry, the look on her face was so upsetting. Luckily, we quickly moved on.

just casually hammering some dough

just casually hammering some dough

Next we saw a show, where chinese singers and musicians acted out, as far as I could tell, the story of a drunken feast. Well, turns out that is a common event here, as we were ushered into a local home (super cool) and promptly forced to drink some rice wine with our lunch. The women working (living?) there literally brought the cup up to your mouth and if you didn’t open up they probably would’ve poured it down your chin. My friend and I, trying to avoid these mandatory noontime shots, finished ours before they had worked down the table. Our hosts were undeterred however, and simply refilled our cups and made us drink anyway. Oh well.

Inside a local home

Inside a local home

We walked up to the top of this village to a pretty unbelievable view; the mountains in this region are surreal. On the way up we passed a elderly lady strolling down the hill with her arms behind her back. When we looked back, my friends and I swore she was holding a submachine gun behind her back. We were too far away to tell if it was real, but I wasn’t about to find out. Only in China.

Village

The Village From the Top

The Village

The Village

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At night back at the hotel we went to the grocery store to grab some beers and stumbled upon these gems:

PBR World War II Veteran Edition Beer

PBR World War II Veteran Edition Beer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, those are PBR cans commemorating the American Veterans in WWII. Again, only in China. The next day we drove (only 2 hours this time) to walk through what I’m convinced was Jurassic Park. It was this awesome park with 365 steps (1 for each day of the year) across the water through spires of rock and giant ferns.

If I were a dinosaur, I'd live here

If I were a dinosaur, I’d live here

Next we visited Huangguoshu Waterfall, a 255-foot tall cascade with an awesome cave where you can basically walk underneath the thundering curtain of water. Again, surreal is about the only way I can describe it.

looking out from the cave

looking out from the cave

Huangguoshu Falls

Huangguoshu Falls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few other oddities during the trip:

- Immediately after exiting the airport, Vera wasted no time in telling us where we could buy some dog meat. I looked for dog jerky as a souvenir but no luck.

- Everyone smokes cigarettes, everywhere. In the elevator, at the restaurants, in the hotel lobby. Even at 7 am during breakfast people were smoking cigarettes. Yum!

- I received a fortune cookie said, “You will have further progress in your career.” Still waiting for that one to pan out…

- In general, bathrooms are a bit of an adventure, and half of the time you are standing or squatting in a puddle of well…something. A lot of the time I felt better not washing my hands (yes, that bad).

It was a short trip, but pretty eye-opening and based on the looks people were giving us, not many westerners get to this part of China. I consider myself privileged to see how ‘real’ China operates. Plus not so bad when the view outside the bus window consistently looked like this:

typical geography

typical geography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t know if I’ll ever be back to China, but I won’t forget it.

When My Education And Real Life Collide

Last semester I took a course called “Environmental Preservation and Improvement”, an upper-level seminar where every week students gave presentations on current environmental topics. It was an awesome class, and it excited me so much that I got a little over-ambitious and said that I would provide a brief recap of the presentations given every week. Unfortunately, real life interfered and I only managed to summarize the first presentation about geoengineering and then one of my own presentations on colony collapse disorder.

In the course of that research, I basically came to the conclusion that the culprit at the bottom of all these interacting factors is the use of systemic pesticides, specifically neonicotinoids, on the crops honeybees pollinate (refer to the older post for details).

That was back in October. Almost six months later and the New York Times recently came out with this article and corresponding video (below), which says, in so many words, that growing evidence is pointing to systemic pesticides as the primary cause in colony collapse disorder.

Was I the first person to make this connection? Of course not. Nor has it been determined what exactly is causing CCD. But it’s always rewarding and exciting to see work that I’ve done in class being discussed out in the real world, and it only gets me more psyched to continue learning.

Experiencing a Local Tragedy From 8000 Miles Away

I’m not sure if any of this comes to a “point”, but I’m not getting any other work done and I don’t know how else to deal with the anger, confusion, depression, and anxiety that continue to flood my mind.

My roommate in Hong Kong woke me up at 7:28 Tuesday morning: “Will. Will! There was a bombing at the Boston Marathon.” My slumbering brain struggled to comprehend what he had said. Bombing? Just the night before I had wished good luck to my friends running the marathon (Jessie & Sarah you guys are badass), and expressed to my housemates just how much I wanted to join them on the sidelines to have a few beers and cheer on the runners. Less than 12 hours later I was frantically checking Facebook to see if they were alright.

A quick search assured me that Jessie and Sarah were safe and sound. They were both less than half a mile from the finish when the explosions went off. At first I was angry that they were robbed of the absolutely amazing experience of crossing the finish line after all their hard work. But my anger quickly faded to quiet and profound relief. But Jessie and Sarah were only 2 of over 50 runners that proudly wore the Tufts jersey on Monday, and my newsfeed was struggling to keep up as friends and peers looked for each other in real time. I watched in relief as my fellow Jumbos confirmed their safety and reached out to each other in support.

A message from my roommate/housemate of three years and best friend was a little more unnerving. He and his girlfriend had been at the finish line, standing next to the flags of the participating nations that were later pulled down in a frantic effort to get to the wounded. They had moved only “two minutes before” because it was too crowded and they could no longer see.

Another message from my close friend at Boston College was waiting on my phone. It read, “I’m ok along with everyone else I know.” The last two years I have gone to BC on Marathon Monday to cheer on the runners coming over heartbreak hill at mile 21. It has become a tradition and a highlight of my springs in Boston, despite my absence this year. The next message from Connor simply said “bombs dude.” I re-read that over and over (I still am). Bombs dude. Bombs. 

I was shaking, my stomach twisted into such tight knots that they are still unwinding. Here I was halfway around the world, waking up to messages from my best friends who had just narrowly escaped a terrible fate. More than that, it was a fate that just as easily could’ve belonged to me, or a fellow Tufts student, or to a loving parent. It is a fate that tragically caught up with over 100 people and their families on Boylston street on Monday afternoon.

Within 20 minutes of my rude awakening I had absorbed every piece of news and Facebook update I could find. But I kept re-reading and re-watching, transfixed by the utter unfathomable nature of what had happened. I still don’t think I will ever have a firm grasp on what occurred on Boylston Street that day. As I sat in class later that morning with Alvaro, another Tufts exchange student, I could see him doing the same: going back in time on Facebook, trying to keep track of all the people and the stories that were spilling off of his screen and occupying our thoughts.

Thank God for social media. This is not something I ever thought I would say. In general I feel that Facebook and Twitter distract and remove us from the real world. But that morning I could not be more grateful for Facebook. Grateful that in less then 10 minutes I could account for all the people who are near and dear to me and let out a giant sigh of relief, even as the uncertainties continued. It is inconceivable that I might have gone the whole day (and maybe more) without knowing that my friends were safe and unharmed. More than that, social media provided a way for me to essentially re-live the explosions as they happend. It made me feel as if I was there.

Yet as grateful as I am for the peace of mind that Facebook was able to bring me, it did not  substitute for truly being there. And at the end of the day, it is this disconnect that makes this event so difficult to comprehend, beyond its obvious tragic and unexpected nature. Boston has become my city. These were my friends, my peers, my role models out there running 26.2 miles in an event that has come to define springtime in Boston for me. The explosions on Boylston Street created a terrible scene of senseless destruction in my city and shook members of my community to the very core. And I am 8000 miles away.

One of my greatest fears of going abroad was that I would miss out on exciting weekends, inside jokes, and drunk escapades. But for the most part during my time here I have not really been homesick for Tufts. That all changed Tuesday morning. More than anything right now I want to be surrounded by my fellow Jumbos, to sit down and talk with them about what just happened, what it all means, and how we are involved. This event will leave a lasting mark on our college career and I am not sure yet what that mark is or how it will affect us. Despite the presence of other Tufts students here, I have never felt so alone, so far away, and so homesick during my time in Hong Kong as I do now.

My heart goes out to all those who were directly affected by these attacks, and those like myself who are trying to come to grips with what happened in the city we call home.

Tunnel Exploration and Rugby Nation

Somehow March is almost over and there are a mere 2 months left of my Hong Kong adventure. But if there is one thing I’ve learned from Buddhism, it is not to dwell in the future and to enjoy the present. Technically I’m not supposed to dwell in the past either, but for the sake of this post I will review some of the things I’ve been up to in the last few weeks.

Sometimes I forget that just beyond the city there are tons of mountains just waiting to be explored. I don’t know any other city where you can take a subway ride for 30 minutes, walk another 10 minutes from the station and just start hiking. A couple weeks ago my friend Jessie and I set out to tackle the 2nd highest mountain in HK, Lantau Peak. Although it is a little further away, Lantau Island is a great place to get outside. The hike is pretty much straight up for 2 hours, and the steps seem like they go on forever. The crazy thing about hiking in HK is that you can look one direction and see giant apartment complexes, and if you turn 180 degrees you get a view like this:

Jessie on Lantau Peak

Jessie on Lantau Peak

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we reached the top a heavy fog came rolling in and the wind picked up pretty strong, and I almost felt like I was back in New Hampshire.

Lantau Peak

Lantau Peak

South Carter, New Hampshire

South Carter, New Hampshire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few weeks after Lantau Peak, Aanya, Brian and I checked out Devil’s Peak, a mountain across the bay in Kowloon. Devil’s Peak is one of the weirder mountains I’ve explored. There are the remains of several different military structures, used by the British in the past. And on the other side there is a giant traditional Chinese Cemetery:

Chinese Cemetary

Chinese Cemetery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By far the coolest part of Devil’s peak was the crazy cave/grotto/tunnel that Aanya discovered on the way up to the peak. It’s this little opening in the rock that twists about 30 meters through the side of the mountain, eventually coming out on the other side. It was only about 3 feet high in there so we basically had to crawl. It was pitch black and as I led the way using an iphone as a light source (thanks technology) I was convinced I was going to find a human skeleton or a sleeping cougar. After our tunnel adventure we grabbed food at a 24-hour breakfast joint and had a couple beers before making it back to the dorms.

Then there was Vietnam, which I’ll get to…in another post. The weekend after was the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens, which is an awesome 3-day tournament that brings fans from all over the world. As a member of the HKU rugby team I was lucky enough to get a friday ticket for 100 HKD ($12, they usually cost about $100 for Friday and a lot more for the whole weekend). Sevens was by far one of my favorite things I’ve done in HK. Over 5 hours of rugby with lots of friends and lots of beer. I can’t remember all the different costumes I saw but highlights included: a full-grown man as smurfette, several popes, nuns, and some kind of rasta jesus, pirates, and anything else you can think of. When the U.S was playing (we lost), our chants of USA drew some resent – I’m pretty sure someone threw a few cups at us. It probably didn’t help that my friend insisted on yelling back “You’re just jealous of our democracy!” (I’ll keep them anonymous for their own sake). Overall it was an awesome night. Uncle Ted if you’re reading this, I wish you could’ve been there to enjoy it with me.

Sevens by Night

Sevens by Night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I leave again tomorrow for China, further convincing me that this is not real life. Last piece of good news, someone bought one of my photographs through UGallery, an awesome website that sells some of my work.To my anonymous purchaser, THANK YOU! Definitely a cool feeling knowing that someone out there liked my work enough to pay money for it.

1 Roll of Film, 3 Countries

At the bottom of the Great Wall of China, in the back of a souvenir shop, there was a glass case with old boxes of film collecting dust. Naturally I bought one, an ancient roll of AGFACOLOR XRG 100. The box was faded and dusty, and I’m pretty sure the inside had at least 2 spiders living in it. Oh, and it expired in 1992. Not to mention, I’m sure that film has sat there for the last 20 years completely unrefrigerated, through the 10-degree winters and 90-degree summers of China. Expired film does funny things, not to mention film that expired 20 years ago and has been subjected to extreme temperature swings. But  as I’ve said many times, this is what makes film so fun – there is still a sense of adventure and mystery every time you get a roll developed.

So not only was this film special because of it’s age and unpredictability, it ended up staying in my camera as I travelled from China, back to Hong Kong, and finally to Vietnam, before the last frame was exposed. Which brings us to another cool part about shooting with traditional film: 1 roll can contain information spanning several weeks or months, and every frame has the potential to be exposed somewhere totally different. The same can be said of digital pictures on a memory card, except a roll of film has a physical element that digital cameras cannot approach.

There’s the antiques market in Beijing, which was full of strange instruments, flasks, Chinese arts and crafts, and an infinite number of Mao posters. The next frames show a hike up to Lantau Peak in Hong Kong, where the fog rolled in so thickly we couldn’t see anything, and I almost forgot that the airport was around the corner. And the last few frames are from the first day in Hanoi during my trip to Vietnam, which I will get to in my next post. Stay Tuned.

Oddities, Encounters, and Buddhist Dating Advice

I decided to compile a list of the strange experiences and sights I’ve encountered in the last few weeks. Oh, and some wisdom from my Buddhism Professor.

- A pack of meowing girls. Yes, that is correct. Upon returning from China, we were walking through the airport when a group of 5 or 6 girls walked towards us meowing in unison. It almost sounded like they had practiced it before, it was pretty impressive honestly (and a little scary).

- A man pushing a pink stroller with 3 tiny dogs inside, all wearing pink articles of dog clothing (is there a technical term for that?).

- According to my Buddhism teacher (who is a monk) the best way to get over a break up is to “write a poem or a song about your feelings, get it published, and then move on. Find someone else.” Is Taylor Swift actually an expert buddhist? Unclear. But next time someone asks, buddhism condones rebound dating.

- A solitary man eating his pizza next to me who made grunting and what I can only describe as “mooing sounds” and laughed to himself as he ate.

- An impromptu wedding photo shoot in the middle of a Soho alleyway

- Standing on a highway overpass and counting 41 Mercedes-Benz’s and 38 BMW’s go by in about 5 minutes. Plus several Porsche’s, a handful of Audi’s, Maserati’s, and Ferrari’s.

- Someone in a Giant Panda costume dancing around campus. He was a big hit with the girls

- Perks of abroad: when you do job interviews through video chat no one knows if you’re wearing pants or not.

- Seeing two men on tiny little bikes biking up a giant hill at midnight on a friday

There are more but they often slip my mind right after they happen. As I remember/experience more I will update. Sadly I don’t have photos of any of these events, most of them happened too quickly or I didn’t have my camera. I’ve posted some older photos from various activities, just to keep you interested.