My Photographs: Top 5 Xin Yang River – Zhejiang Province, China.

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Xin Yang River, August 2017. Even after all these years I still get a kick out of seeing isolated places in off-the-beaten-track China. And they don’t get much more podunk than the insignificant village of Xinyang in Zhejiang Province. Located about an hour from the city of Rui’an, my teaching buddies and I headed out on a typically hot and humid August afternoon. And it wasn’t even the village itself we were interested in, but rather this narrow stretch of river where locals go to seek respite from the unforgiving summer heat.

Xin Yang River, August 2017. There were about twelve of us that day, so we rented a wooden raft boat (70RMB one hour) and flailed about for a bit with the wooden poles in an attempt to navigate our way around the river. It was only later that I realised a much more effective way of captaining our vessel was to simply jump in the water and steer it with my hands.

Xin Yang River, August 2017. Needless to say we were the only foreigners there and the subject of much curiosity. There were families waving at us from the riverbank and a man who kept saying “Hellooooo!” over and over, like it was the funniest joke he’d ever cracked. Nearly everyone had an inflatable ring or armbands, although the water was so shallow it seemed hardly necessary.

Xin Yang River, August 2017. Indeed most of us could simply walk through the river comfortably enough. I watched this dude emerge from the trees on the far bank, beyond which lay farmer’s fields, woods and rolling mountains. As he passed our boat we were doing a role-play game in which yours truly had just been murdered. So stunned was River Man by this unlikely scene that he actually stopped to have a good old stare. So I smiled and gawked back at him with an opportunistic click.

Xin Yang River, August 2017. I feel fortunate to have got this shot of some locals chilling, particularly as they managed to stay so natural with my camera pointing in their faces. Our merry group of teachers had a great time on the river that afternoon. It was one of those days that reminded me how fantastic life in China can be.

But what I didn’t know and indeed wouldn’t find out until the following morning was that one of our friends had just lost his life back in Rui’an. And so the last few weeks have been some of the toughest in recent memory. His passing has reminded me what a fragile thing life is and how I should push myself to be the person my friends deserve. It’s taught me to be more thankful for what I have and how I should make time for more river days like this one. I wish he’d been there with us. He would have loved it and we’d have enjoyed it all the more in his company.

 In memory of Craig Church, 1989-2017.

 

 

 

My Photographs: Top 5 Sweet Mao – Gulangyu Island, China.

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Sweet Mao, August 2017. It was mid afternoon on Gulangyu when, all of a sudden, the heavens opened and the rain came beating down. So I sprinted off through the nearest stone gate and into a colonial courtyard with brick arches, twisting trees and a statue of a red-haired, cartoon cat. Sweet Mao announced a number of playful signs; the home of sweet tea, handmade nougat and thoughtful gifts.

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My Photographs: Top 5 Lee House – Gulangyu Island, China.

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Lee House, August 2017. Many of Gulangyu Island’s grand old colonial buildings are now home to shops, restaurants and luxury boutiques. Whilst I have very little interest in shopping, it was still cool to duck into some of these amazing buildings and check out the courtyards and architecture. One of the coolest structures is the huge four-storey Lee House, a listed Xiamen Municipal Government Building dating back o the 1920s. Today it’s home to the Chinese retail company ‘Sincere Co’.

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My Photographs: Top 5 Haoyue Park – Gulangyu Island, China.

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Haoyue Park, August 2017. You could easily spend two or three days exploring Gulangyu. But if you find yourself on limited time, map out a walking route to the island’s northwestern tip for the dramatically located Haoyue Park. The complex can be accessed via this pretty beach and is situated on, in and around Fuding Rock. A 25RM fee is required to go inside.

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My Photographs: Top 5 Gulangyu Island.

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Gulangyu Island, August 2017. As amazing as the Chinese city of Xiamen undoubtedly is, the real inspiration for my trip to Fujian Province was the prospect of a visit to Gulangyu Island. Reached via a fifteen-minute ferry ride from Xiamen International Passenger Terminal, I was horribly unprepared for what an almighty battle it would be to get a spot on one of the hourly boats! Actually, the behavior I encountered in the ticket office queue was one of the most distasteful experiences from all my Chinese adventures. There’s so much I could write about that crappy morning, but I shall save it for a future short story. In the end, all that mattered was that I got my ticket, fought my way onboard and, a short while later, planted both feet on Gulangyu.

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My Photographs: Top 5 Xiamen, China.

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Hexiang West Road, August 2017. My five-day trip to the island city of Xiamen very nearly didn’t happen. In the days preceding my visit, Typhoon Nesat swept through southern China, causing considerable mayhem to Taiwan and mainland Fujian Province. In fact, just the day before my journey all trains to Xiamen had been cancelled! Luckily for me god wagged his finger, the clouds parted and the train schedules were brought back from the dead. Happier still, my three and a half hour train journey from Rui’an turned out to be mercifully straightforward. On arrival I found a city engulfed in rain, light winds and an eerie afternoon darkness. The streets in and around my hotel were virtually deserted, save for the carcasses of unearthed plants, broken bushes and fallen trees.

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My Photographs: Top 5 Qufu, China.

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Street Card Game, July 2009. The town of Qufu is one of the top sights in Shandong Province. As the hometown of Confucius, arguably the world’s most revered philosopher, thousands of people flock here every day to pay testament to the old sage’s far-reaching influence. And it felt to me like this pocket-sized town, with a population of just sixty thousand, could barely cope with the strain. Still, away from the madness of Qufu’s Confucius attractions, one can still seek out a taste of local life. Work your way into the back streets and you’ll find restaurant owners fanning barbecues and circles of chain-smoking men playing cards.

Confucius Temple, July 2009. “Chinese people so crazy for Confucius!” giggled the receptionist at Qufu International Youth Hostel. She wasn’t kidding. The real reason, the only reason one might argue, for coming to Qufu was to check out San Kong, the town’s three hallowed Confucius sights. Spread out across a walled complex of sixteen thousand square meters, Confucius World, as one might call it, is so vast it actually takes up one fifth of Qufu’s total land mass. This is the temple area, a wondrous mix of stone courtyards, towering trees, crumbling bridges and a green, algae-infested stream.

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