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.

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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.

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.

Holga Interlude

Just got back to Hong Kong after spending Chinese New Year break in China, which I may never get to do again. As much As I want to get into the awesomeness of that week, I’m waiting to get my film back so I have some photos to accompany my stories. In the meantime, here are some photos from a Holga roll from the first few weeks. Once again, there is something magical about the spontaneity and simplicity of the Holga (see my earlier post) that makes you excited to even get one picture back. I was lucky enough to get all mine back, despite the accidental overlapping & double-exposure that occurred across the whole roll, and a couple light leaks. There’s nothing quite like a holga photo.

Enjoy!

Trying to Keep Up

Life has been moving at a light-speed recently, and finding the time to blog has been hard. Because even the everyday “normal” things and activities are adventurous and new, it’s difficult to remember, let alone explain, all that happens.

Last Wednesday I did a short solo hike on a trail called Dragon’s Back, which follows the steep up-and-down coastline on the eastern side of Hong Kong Island. Getting to the trailhead required taking a bus, the subway, and then after a brief period of wandering around Shau Kei Wan finding the third bus that got me to the start of my hike. I thought I would get some weird looks on the subway, wearing my hiking boots and shorts and synthetic t-shirt, but because this is Hong Kong, no one paid any mind. Come to think of it, no one even gave a second glance to the girl in a bright red leather sleeveless dress (I think it was a dress), or the guy with the front half of his hair dyed electric blue. After watching the mirrors of the double-decker bus scrape the high concrete walls as the bus barreled around the edge of the mountain road, I was happy to be on my own two feet as I started up the steep trail. I immediately entered a small bamboo forest (casual) and then was thrust out into bright sunlight and humid air as I climbed up to Shek O peak.

I passed some young kids in jeans and flip-flops, carrying nothing but their cameras, and felt a little foolish looking down at my hiking boots and feeling the weight of my backpack on my back. But I soon forgot all about them as I reveled in the fresh air and the view of open sea and sky, especially after the last few weeks of skyscrapers, cramped buses, and sardine-can elevators. The views were spectacular, with the ocean and surrounding islands clearly visible and green peaks stretching on into the distance. The hike ended at a beautiful little beach, with locals surfing (or at least attempting to in the tiny waves). After a quick nap and some ice cream, I headed back to reality.

Hiking gave me some time to reflect on just how different my life has become since leaving home. Inevitably, I thought about a solo hike in western Massachusetts I had completed exactly 4 weeks before, only a few days before I had left for Hong Kong. That day I broke trail through over a foot and a half of snow, and saw only three people during my eight hours on the mountain. The silence was as deep as the snow and the cold air cleared my mind as I prepared for my journey halfway around the world.

As I stood on Shek O peak, sweating in the humid Hong Kong air and reliving the cold snowy peak of Greylock, I become all too aware of how much had happened in the short four weeks since that time, and how much more I will do while here. But beyond that, I realized that this was exactly the kind of thing I came to Hong Kong for – to put my life in perspective by experiencing the world from a new vantage point. Only by hiking in HK could I realize the valuable lessons learned from the hike that day in Massachusetts. As I continue to experience the world from my newfound vantage point, I hope I also continue to learn new things about myself and where I stand in the world.

Below are pictures from both hikes; enjoy!

Superbowl Monday?

I woke up at 6 AM this morning. It is by far the earliest I have woken up since arriving here, and also about the latest I have gone to bed (I’ll be asked about that next time I skype my parents). Normally I’m not too excited about waking up at 6 am on a Monday. But this wasn’t any monday, this was SUPERBOWL Monday. Because of the 13 hour time gap between Hong Kong and the east coast of the U.S, the Sunday evening 6:30 gametime translated to a 7:30 AM start here. So, like any good, football-loving American, I woke up and went to a bar to watch the game with a couple of new friends at Hong Kong Brew House in LKF (notably, I was only one on my program to make such an effort).

148$ HK dollars (about $19 U.S) got me an “American Breakfast,” which consisted of scrambled eggs, toast, hash browns, and sausage, and a free bottle of Brooklyn Lager. Not a bad way to start the day! I spent the better part of the first quarter explaining some of the rules of football to my non-american friends, and then watched in dismay as the Ravens proceed to march all over the 49ers. I thought my only superbowl in Hong Kong was going to be a blowout. Luckily, the power went out in New Orleans (!), which I thought created a major momentum shift and allowed SF to get back in the game.

It was great watching it in Hong Kong, because no one really cared who won, and everyone cheered at every big play, regardless of the outcome. People just wanted to see a good game and were excited to be a part of this American tradition (and have beer for breakfast). Pretty cool. The only really terrible part was that because it was a local broadcasting company, I didn’t get to see any of the commercials until after the game when I looked them up. And yes, I sat here and watched all of them.

First of all, the Oreo ad was fantastic. So was the Tide commercial, and I also enjoyed many others (NFL, Old Spice, Audi). Of course there some questionable ads, although none more so than Beck’s Sapphire.

First of all, aren’t sapphires blue? So why the red stone on the bottle. Also, what does a fish have to do with this? No idea how this relates to Beck’s or makes me want to drink their beer, but maybe the point was just to generate buzz. In any case, there was one ad that really got my attention, and that was the Ram commercial.

To start with, this ad is an epic, coming in at 2 minutes long. Most articles cite a cost of $3.5 million for 30 seconds of air time, so it’s safe to assume that the Ram commercial cost upwards of $14 million, which is crazy in it’s own right. But what really captivated me was the fact that the ad is all still images. Photographs. Paired together with Paul Harvey’s “So God made a farmer” speech, it really is quite powerful. I can’t remember the last time I saw an ad that used photography so heavily. Despite a little digging, all I could find out was that Chrysler commissioned 10 photographers, including William Albert Allard and Kurt Markus, to create the images. I found the photographs to be incredibly sincere and beautiful.

A couple closing comments: When we got to the Brew House at 7, it was barely twilight. Emerging back into the daylight at 11:30 AM after sitting in a dim bar all morning was incredibly disorienting.

Additionally, I am absolutely swimming in film right now, I have tons of pictures to post from all sorts of events including winter break and my ongoing adventures in HK. Check back soon!

Sneakers and Smartphones

I spent a couple hours in Mong Kok yesterday, which is basically a huge shopping district across the bay on the peninsula. On Nathan street there is block after block of high end clothing companies, while beautiful european models gaze down on you from massive billboards, begging you to just try and look as good as them. There are so many watches, that even if you put on a new one every minute, you probably would die before you wore them all. If you wander over a block or two, you find the more “real” Mong Kok: Tung Choi street is lined with booth after booth, selling everything from wigs to board games to Beats headphones to handbags to children’s toys. One section is just groceries. Behind the booths are tons of restaurants and massage parlors and tons of camera stores. The cool thing is that it’s not full of tourists like you think; locals are all over, doing their shopping like it’s no big deal.

Further up Tung Choi I stumbled upon what I have now dubbed aquarium village (creative I know); literally every shop for almost 3 blocks is an aquarium or pet shop. My personal favorite was The Techno Aquarium, which I still maintain they should make into a bangin club.techno_aquarium

How they are all still in business I have no idea. On either side of Tung Choi are streets filled with more restaurants, pharmacies, camera shops, and shoe stores. I am now beginning to think that every Hong Kong resident owns 28 pairs of shoes, half of which must be adidas. Either that or they just buy them because they are bored. Literally every street has 2, if not more, adidas shoe shops. It’s not like they are empty either; every shop is buzzing (this was a Monday, mind you). Like aquarium village, I’m unsure how every one stays in business. Pure craziness.

After finally finding this tiny little film shop that will hopefully (fingers crossed) develop my 120 film, I grabbed lunch at a local joint. The number of restaurants in Hong Kong amazes me. On every street there are usually 3 different food stalls and 7 noodle restaurants, most of which serve pretty similar things. I usually just go for one that looks clean enough to eat at. While I was waiting for my food, I looked around at the groups of locals eating next to me. Literally every single person had some sort of smartphone or tablet (or something inbetween) in their hand. I counted at least three people with headphones in, watching something while their friends sat next to them! No one was offended either, because they were all busy playing games or texting or doing who knows what. I was the only one without some sort of device in my hand and was also the only one sitting alone, but I felt more present than anyone in the restaurant. Sometimes there would be sparse conversation, but the participants wouldn’t even look up at each other. I’ve always been kind of wary about smartphones and what they’re doing to society, but the way in which people here are pugged into their devices is plain scary.

When I left the restaurant, I suddenly became aware that everyone had a smartphone in their hand; at least 15 people nearly ran into me while they were looking down at their screens. Not only that, but on every corner there was a store selling the damn things, and every bus has an ad for the newest tablet-phone! In general, the culture of Hong Kong is extremely materialistic and possession obsessed. I’ll write more about that when I have gathered my thoughts a little better.

In the meantime, horse races tomorrow, and hopefully some photos! Stay tuned in.