On the Prospect of Being in a Chinese Family’s Vacation Photo Album

It’s been over a week since I returned from China, and life is busier than ever (I even have some homework to do). After developing, scanning, and editing the 5 rolls of film I shot while in the mainland, I’m going to do my best to describe my ridiculous, sleep-deprived, cold, and overwhelming week in China.

Shanghai was first. We arrived on new years eve, and after a couple quick touristy sights we went to a restaurant for a new years ‘feast’. For all of you who were wondering, jellyfish does NOT taste anything like jelly or fish; it’s crunchy (ew). Luckily, the pepper beef and steamed cabbage was insanely good, so we didn’t starve. That night the group went out and were seduced by a deal where it was 100 RMB (16 USD) for an open bar and entry to 2 clubs. I mean what could possibly go wrong with 15 20-something-year-old Americans in a Shanghai nightclub with an open bar on Chinese New Years Eve? I won’t bore you with the details but it involved a lot of dancing, stuffed snakes, cigarette burns, and an extravagant (and potentially unsafe) amount of fireworks being set off in the street at midnight. In fact, from that night on, it was normal for people to launch fireworks whenever and wherever they wanted. The first few nights we kept thinking the city was under attack, but by the end of the trip they had become so common that I was beginning to wonder if China had permanently ruined 4th of July for me.

Despite our successful first night, the rest of our time in Shanghai was kind of a bust. Because of the holiday, everything was shut down the next day, and on Monday the museums and other cultural areas were still closed. Shanghai has undergone extreme growth in the past 20 years or so, and you can tell a lot of thought went into the planning of the city. Even so we heard horror stories of the traffic jams, and apparently despite the 4-lane highways and well designed roads drivers still sit in 2 hours of traffic regularly.

Up next: Beijing. I was unsure how much I would like Beijing, but I have to say it was amazing. Our four days there were a whirlwind of amazing food, ancient temples, bartering for knock-off Ralph Lauren shirts and propaganda posters, unsuccessfully googling “Tiananmen Square,” bizzarre modern art, more delicious food, climbing the great wall, sledding across a frozen lake using fire pokers to push ourselves, and fighting through swarms of chinese trying to follow our tour guide as she led us into oncoming traffic. For some reason I thought that because I had already been in Hong Kong, the culture shock wouldn’t be so intense, but it was just as extreme (maybe more) as when I first landed in HK. It’s just hard to get used to driving past giant Apple stores, Maserati dealerships, Gucci stores and Burberry shops, then turning a corner and finding yourself at an ancient temple gate.

After a while it was difficult to express anymore astonishment at our surroundings. “OK, China” became a common response as we just accepted whatever ridiculousness was thrust in front of us. Mao looked back at us from our money and on every corner you could find someone wearing a big furry hat with a red star on the front. People asked to take pictures with us, and I’m pretty sure my friend was proposed to by a waiter. One parent even thrust his daughter into our arms, claiming it was her homework to have her picture taken with foreigners. She looked terrified. I can’t help but wonder how many of us will end up in a family album somewhere. I could go on, but there is too much, so here is a list of some remaining highlights:

– green tea + oreo blizzards at Dairy Queen. Seriously delicious and they don’t exist anywhere else

-communist puns: “Mao Money, Mao Problems” and “Commi Maybe” (I can’t take credit for either of those)

– FOOD: the best kung pow chicken ever, bullfrog, delicious tofu, pumpkin cakes, some fusion that I could never classify, and a million other things I can’t remember. More adventurous people ate scorpions and grasshoppers at the street stalls

– Getting in the elevator and seeing the chinese news station showing footage of the Russian comet and thinking that north korea had launched a missile and freaking out

– The Great Wall. One of those things that neither words nor photos can do justice. Oh, and to get down we took a GIANT METAL SLIDE. It’s awesome and fast and guards jump out and yell at you to slow down (ha).

Check the pictures below.

Why You Should Always Say Yes When Your Dad Wants to Go Skiing

As I’ve mentioned, there is always a time lapse that comes with shooting film, and it is one of the qualities that make it so rewarding. So for this post I’m going back almost 2 months to the end of december.

On December 30th, the last day of our Christmas vacation, my dad went skiing by himself. Usually, I am always jumping at the opportunity for one more ski day, especially when it’s just my dad and I. But for some reason on that day I turned him down, opting to go snowshoeing with my mother instead. Looking back, I’m reluctant to admit that maybe I was a bit spoiled by the first half of our vacation, which had been full of snow and relatively empty of people. Now that it was the other way around, I didn’t want to water down my trip with a day of mediocre skiing. I hate myself for thinking that way, because there really is no such thing as a “mediocre” day of skiing with your dad. I hate myself even more because while out by himself, my dad fell and tore his ACL.

My mom and I were about 10 minutes away from finishing our hike and meeting up with my father for lunch when he called in severe pain saying he fell and was about to pass out. Twenty minutes later we picked him up from the mountain, and although he was smiling and laughing, the laughter was terse and tinted with anxiety. At the hospital, we learned  that not only did my dad tear his ACL, he also completed what the doctor fondly called the triple crown: a torn ACL, a strained MCL, and a “buckled” PCL (how do you buckle a ligament? Gross).

As the doctor explained the diagnosis, I was impressed at my dad’s composure. He was clearly frustrated and angry, but I know that if it had been me, I would’ve been a wreck. Recovery from ACL surgery takes about six months.  All I could think about was how if I had gone with him none of this would’ve happened. That’s all I had been thinking about since the first phone call.

Back at home, the upcoming surgery dominated my father’s thoughts. He watched surgery videos on youtube (again, gross) and read about every surgery horror story and post-surgery disaster. He was scared; I would’ve been terrified. The original surgery was scheduled for after I left for Hong Kong, but my dad moved it up to the Friday before, and I was glad to be there for him. On a rainy cold friday in New York, my mom and I saw my dad into surgery. I met up with some friends while my mom remained at the hospital to wait. I tried to enjoy my last night out with friends that I wouldn’t see for months, but I was preoccupied by my dad’s progress, not to mention the weight of my impending flight across the world. It was a weird night, and in the end I was annoyed that I didn’t stick around to bring my dad home.

When I left two days later, my dad was still sleeping in the couch downstairs and was fighting to maintain clarity despite his narcotics. Being the oldest son (only son) I felt like I needed to stay and help, but I had a plane to Hong Kong to catch.

I took pictures throughout the whole ordeal but obviously missed some important moments (fresh out of surgery, the actual accident) and am currently missing the rehab process (my mom tells me he’s doing well). I can only hope my dad and I are skiing together again next winter; this time I will make sure not to miss any opportunities.

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!

What I wish I was doing

Every once in a while, I come across a series of photographs that is so in tune with my own artistic vision and personal interests that I curse myself for not coming up with it myself. Most of the time it is something that I have turned over in my mind as an interesting idea, but quickly realized was totally impossible give my current education, finances, and occupation (is student even an occupation?). The project Shadow Within by Christian Houge is one of those projects that I wish so badly was my own. Houge photographs wolves. But it’s not your typical National Geographic photograph that was shot with a telephoto lens at long distances. On the contrary, many of the photos show just how aware the wolves are of Houge’s presence , and amazingly, how comfortable they seem to be despite him being there.

I’ve been in love with wolves since I was little. I remember being only 11 or 12 on a trip to Canada, where I watched in complete awe as a pack ran through the woods next to the road, silent streaks of grey that seemed to dissolve in and out of the trees. For me, the wolf has always symbolized the wild nature that we all have inside of us but choose to ignore and surpress. Additionally, the wolf has always been associated with evil and darkness; one only has to look at fairytales and folklore to confirm that the fear of wolves runs deeps in human society. Yet I would argue that part of that fear comes from the fact that we are afraid to admit how much the wolf reminds us of ourselves.

And this is why Houge’s project is so frustratingly perfect. It explores these issues that I have considered dozens of times. Wanting to get close to the animals, he had to take a safety course in order to learn their language and understand the signs they use. He had to let himself go.

“You have to face your fear,” he says. “They are in your face, and they have their tongue in your mouth, if they choose to come and greet you. This is how they get food from their parents when they are young. It is a sense of security, but it is their way of showing they’re in charge.”

Working with packs around the world and spending days at a time in the woods, Houge manages to get extremely close to these beautiful animals and in his images he shows us those wild elements which we all have deep down.

Houge believes that exploring our more wild side, our “shadows within,” is crucial in learning more about ourselves and how we interact with nature.

On his website, Houge writes, “I think the idea of Man trying to control nature as opposed to utilizing and respecting it, brings up a strong metaphor of how we humans deal with the environment we are a part of and dependant upon. Most people have their own reference to what the wolf represents, starting from their early childhood… I wish to explore deeper into Mans psyche and what we all can learn of our own shadow sides through this creature.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Oh, and to top it all off, the images are absolutely stunning. The black and white photographs, depicting flashing teeth and piercing eyes, have rich blacks and sublime midtones. Again, the project of my dreams.

You can see the full series on his website, and read more on the Lens Blog

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.

Hong Kong

10 days ago I debarked a plane, bleary-eyed from spending 16 continuous hours trapped inside a metal tube that managed to be impressively large and sufficiently cramped at the same time. I had lost an entire day of my life, thanks to the mechanisms by which our earth rotates the sun. Yet that one lost day suddenly paled in comparison to the realization that I would spend the next 5 and a half months of my life in the place I had just arrived: Hong Kong.

Part of the reason it has taken me so long to sit down and write since I’ve arrived here is that for almost a year, the concept of studying abroad in HK was no more than a vague abstraction, a small speck on the horizon that I felt I would never actually get to. Perhaps that is why since moving into my dorm not a morning has gone by where I haven’t awoke with the sudden realization that this is indeed my current reality.

If I try really hard, sometimes I can convince myself I’m back in my room in Somerville, or even in a dorm room of a friend. But then I get out of bed and the view out my window (below) shatters any illusions that remain.

View from my WindowThis is not to say that I am unhappy. On the contrary, when I look out that window every morning, I cannot help but feel a smile creep onto my face as I shake my head in wonder. And I don’t think these feelings of awe will diminish any time in the near future.

Friends and family back home have asked me to describe Hong Kong. Well frankly, that is impossible. Even pictures, which I might even argue is my preferred medium of communicating the true nature of a place, cannot do HK justice. Sadly, this response does not please anyone, so I had to come up with something.

If you can imagine the tallest buildings in New York City, shoved them closer together on the side of a mountain that rises out of the ocean, and replaced the tidy grid of streets with raised highways and curving, circuitous roads filled with taxis, buses, mopeds, and 7 million people rushing around as fast as they can, you’re getting close. But you’re still missing the dull groan of traffic, the background ticking of the crosswalks that overlap each other to create syncopated city music, and the ever-present grinding of construction. Then there are are the medley of smells that will assault, if not overpower your nose. Many will make you stop and look around desperately for the source, trying to remember it for the next meal. Just as often you will cringe in horror as your eyes water and you swear you’ll never smell anything again.

Sometimes you turn a corner and there is a hill rising straight up into the sky with stairs so steep you don’t know why they even bothered. Random patches of overgrown vegetation and bamboo are common, and trees grow sideways between the buildings that threaten to block out the mountains. Mercedes, Ferraris, BMW’s and Porsches zoom around the minibuses. Old ladies walk tiny pomeranians and other floofy dogs down the crowded streets. On every corner someone is selling something they claim came from the ocean but you can’t figure out why anyone would want to put it anywhere near their mouth.

And even if you can imagine all that, you’re still not here.

There is much more for me to discuss, like elevator and escalator culture, the fact that people here might be more materialistic than in the U.S (at least some of them), struggling with chopsticks, and the memory-sucking blackhole that is LKF. Oh yeah and Hong Kong University, where I’m supposed to be studying for the semester…

Stay tuned.

Transitions

I’ve been living with the same group of individuals, more or less, for the past 3 years. During that time I have made countless photographs of them, documenting the time we have shared. Traditionally I used my trusty 35mm camera to capture moments as they happend, spontaneously. However this semester I began to use a medium format camera, the Mamiya 7, which I liked so much I bought my own. Because the film is so much bigger, the number of frames per roll of film is less, and therefore each photograph costs more, literally. This fact, combined with the size and general slowness of the Mamiya forced me to take a different approach.

Still interested in photographing these individuals who filled the minutes & hours of my life, I began setting up appointments which my friends, placing them in front of the camera and taking more control over what I saw through my viewfinder (technically it’s a rangefinder). As the semester progressed I thought about the way my friends and I had changed from that first year we spent together, and how these photographs were so different from those early snapshots (I still continued to shoot my ‘snapshot’ photographs throughout this time). The most obvious change, and probably the most cliche, is that we are growing up. But it is deeper than that. The more I look, the more I realize that my pictures constitute an ongoing  investigation of the way my friends have crafted their identities. These more formal portraits represent the way I saw my friends at this point in time; they are frozen in transition, for even today their identity has been further developed.

As I continue to photograph and live with these individuals, I cannot help but think of a long-term project, one which attempts to show the development and molding of myself and my friends. I guess you’ll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, enjoy the portraits from this semester, and CHECK OUT THE NEW WEBSITE I MADE!!!!!!!!!

GIS

This semester I was enrolled in the Intro to GIS class at Tufts, the first time it was offerred to the undergraduate population. What is GIS, you may ask? GIS stands for Geographical Information System, which allows one to question, interpret, analyze, and understand data and relationships in a visual or spatial manner. More simply, GIS allows one to create maps and analyze trends on a spatial scale. For example it can be as simple as mapping the peaks hiked in New Hampshire (figure 1 in gallery), or as complicated as determining the best location for a hydroelectric dam.

During the semester we were given multiple assignments that were designed to teach us different skills in ArcMap (a GIS program), including using vector and raster data, suitability analysis, interpolation, using census data, and much more. The semester culminated in a self-designed final project that really forced us to consider what problems needed to be solved, how to solve them, and how to work around the different obstacles that arose. While frustrating and sometimes extremely time-consuming, learning to use ArcMap is a skill I am very grateful to have developed.

I’ve included the maps from my assignments below, as well as my final project and poster (Designing a poster is way more difficult than one would think). Below is the introduction to my final project:

Recent developments in the availability of fossil fuels have led researchers and scientists to explore new methods of extracting natural gas from the earth. One of these new techniques is hydraulic fracturing (fracking), where large quantities of water, sand, and chemicals are pumped into horizontal wells to open up cracks in the earth and extract the gas. This technique now allows companies to access gas reserves that were previously inaccessible. Some of the richest resources for fracking exist in the Marcellus Shale formation, which covers most of western Pennsylvania. As of 2010, the Marcellus Shale portion of Pennsylvania had 71,000 active gas wells, with projections of over 60,000 wells being built in the next 30 years. The rapid expansion of fracking has faced strong opposition for multiple reasons, including the possibility of contaminating groundwater or surface water with methane and radioactive wastewater. My goal was to determine areas that would be particularly vulnerable to this type of contamination, specifically places of high human population. I focused on Allegheny County in Pennsylvania because of it’s location within the Marcellus Shale formation andbecause it is the second most populous county in the state.

With this in mind, my project involved a vulnerability analysis, which can also be thought of as a reverse suitability analysis. The objective was to determine areas where fracking sites were most likely to contaminate water sources close to large population centers. To do this, several factors were considered including population, water bodies (lakes and rivers), reservoirs, fracking wells, and public water sources such as groundwater withdrawal. Each variable was given a ranking or score and I used the buffer tool to create and find the areas of overlap between the variables. By calculating which areas had the highest total score based on the score of each variable, I was able to show the most at risk areas for water contamination given these constraints.