Flying in United Global First

I’m back in the U.S. for a few weeks visiting family and preparing a new Visa for the upcoming year.  On my way home, I had the rare chance to fly first class on both legs of my trip.  No, I personally cannot afford a first class ticket, and these were booked using skymiles.  If purchased directly, this seat would have run between Eleven and Twelve thousand dollars.  All in all, a very comfortable journey, but excessive in all forms of the word.

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The Wild Great Wall

These are a series that I shot on a recent trip to the Jinshanling Great Wall, about two hours north of Beijing.  The section that we hiked heads east toward the Gubeikou Great Wall, and has been left un-restored, providing a great experience.  Of the year I have spent in China, this was one of the best days I have had.

This stands as the only post in the history of this blog that has been done entirely as a black and white series.  I typically find B&W extremely challenging, but I think in this case it was meant to be.  Click on any of them to get a much (much) larger version.  Enjoy  –  F.

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Sunset from the Balcony

Guangzhou is rarely sunny, but on those days when the blue sky shows, it can be a remarkably beautiful place.  Here’s a photo taken from my balcony following a large storm.

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A Different Village

These photos have been sitting on my computer for some time, and I haven’t had a moment to write anything about them.  They are from a trip that I took about a month ago to a village outside of Guangzhou, in search of places that we might be able to camp and establish some volunteer projects for local Guangzhou youth.  It was a beautiful trip, and a great example of one of the countless villages that dot the Chinese countryside.  There is more of a story that goes with these pictures, but for now, let’s just look.  In other news, this blog reached 100,000 hits yesterday.  A milestone of sorts…

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Chinese Mexico

Our goal had been to visit a person we were told made and rented dragon boats, a traditional Chinese craft that are the center of the upcoming Dragon Boat Festival.  It was a gorgeous day, and our trip had us headed northwest of Guangzhou.  We didn’t have much knowledge of where we were headed.  If I remember correctly, we had the address and a phone number, and some strange idea that this person might have what we were after.  Sometimes, a hunch can lead to great things.  On other occasions, a hunch will lead you to….well, something else.

On this occasion,  a hunch lead us to a place that I have come to call Chinese Mexico, an expanse of blue water 5 miles across, twisted and random in the way that you only find with reservoirs.  Our guide insisted that the lake was natural, but based on the shocking blue of the water, I had some doubts.  The water level was low, and I could see that the lake bed was a bright, raw clay color.  Nothing was growing on the bottom.  When we returned home, I took a look and confirmed a massive damn on the south side of the lake.  Though it may have started as a natural lake, it was nothing of the sort at this point.

We walked out onto the strangest of floating structures, a metal mess that was reminiscent of something out of water world.  It was nothing less than a miracle that the platform was floating, and with ever step I expected to fall through the metal slates, none of which was without rust.

We were brought to our Dragon Boats, a sad pair of rusted steel drums that had been converted into gondola-like barges.  Not what we were after by any means.  Despite the disappointment in our boat search, I thought the old resort was fantastic, and hope to go back at some point.  There were few people there, and it would be an amazing place to sail.  As for the water, based on the color and lack of anything living, I might advise against swimming.

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Fancy Hotel, Poor Neighborhood

As part of my job, I get to visit some pretty cool (and sometimes less cool) places.  On a recent site visit, we found ourselves lost in the rural flat-lands about an hour north of Guangzhou.  We had planned on spending the day visiting a builder of dragon boats, but somewhere along the way had managed to take a wrong turn.  Driving through random back streets, we found ourselves at the gate to what appeared to be a resort.  I have traveled all over, but never have I seen anything quite on the scale of excess that dripped off of this particular venue.  Early on in my time in China, a sight like this would have shocked me, and I would have tried to make sense of it all.  Who bothers to build a multi-million dollar resort in a region where no one can possibly afford to visit?  The government, of course!  We asked if it would be possible to get a group rate, but the manager didn’t want to have much of anything to do with us.  Perhaps it was my muddied hiking boots…

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Two Weeks in Beijing

Two weeks ago, I headed north to host a training at a school in Beijing.  I was only meant to stay for two days, and then head back to Guangzhou, but I ended up spending a full two weeks in the Capitol, working on summer and fall projects for the company, as well as spending time with old roommates.  Of the two months that I have been a resident of Guangzhou, nearly three and half weeks have been spent in Beijing.  In many ways, I still feel more comfortable there than in my new home.

A good friend is heading back to her home in the U.K. in just over a week, and though I am sure we will see one another again, it is always hard to say such distant good-byes.  In a world of Skype and flawless connections, I often lose sight of the realities of distance and time.  Though I would like to claim ignorance to the absurd geographic barrier between myself and the people I love, there are times when I am washed over by the awareness that a phone call only carries a small piece of each person to my ear.  I suspect this is what drives my writing at this moment.  The world is not nearly so large as I once thought, but I still grapple with the idea that I can’t make sense of it all, much as I might like.

I don’t know where I meant to go with this whole sensitive discussion; It’s something I typically avoid in my posts, but it has become such a dominant feeling that I figured it was worth this space.  I do not plan on leaving China just yet, but I do wonder what life after this place will hold.  There was a time when graduate university was my only goal in life-  Those days have long since faded, but somewhere deep down, an academic desire still lingers.  I no longer think I would pursue this route in the United States, but as I have come to understand, the U.S. is but a small piece of a vast world.

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Hong Kong Cash

I was in Hong Kong just over a week ago sorting out a visa issue.  Because Hong Kong is run almost completely separate from the mainland, most public systems are different, including the cash.  This is a picture of one of their bills, a fantastic shade of purple.  Hong Kong seemed amazing, but I was only there for four hours, and I think more time is deserved if I am to write any sort of post.  For now, I’ll just leaving you to wonder who had such a brilliant idea as to create purple cash.

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An Afternoon in Central Guangzhou

I left the house shortly after the worst of the storm had passed, and once it seemed like I was not at risk of being soaked.  In typical Guangzhou fashion, it rained for three hours, but the sky remained the same impenetrable grey.  Someday I may stop noticing this lack of sun, though I can’t picture a life without.  Beijing Reminded me of Blade Runner, I haven’t found a comparison for this new city.

The bus didn’t arrive for a long time, and my mind progressed deeper into the depths of an aimless bad mood.  This was further agitated by the absurd number of people on the bus itself.  Even mid morning on a Saturday, there was almost no space available, and people were pushing each other through the door trying to get on.  My goal for today’s adventure was to spend time shooting the inner workings of the Guangzhou bus station, located almost an hour from my apartment.  Crammed within a bus of crying children and deafening phones, I began to loose track of why I had desired this trip in the first place.

Arriving in a more central location, the driver informed us that we all had to get off, despite being nowhere near the terminal.  I was furious, but the walk did a world of good, and the unwarranted fury quickly left.  Within 20 minutes, I was standing inside the dark of the bus terminal shooting away.  I like this spot because it reminds me of home.  There is something about the claustrophobic filth, the sensation that I might not be completely safe, which reminds me of Penn station, or possibly the Port Authority terminal in Manhattan.  It was easily 10 degrees hotter in the station than it was outside, and a number of people gave me dirty looks while I tried to pick up the feeling of this world.

Moving away from the depths of the bus terminal, I went above ground to the entrance of the East Railway Station.  I am drawn to this place, and often find myself here when things have been bothering me.  Something about the Cathedralesque metal work.  I’m not implying that I’m a religious man, and this is certainly not a place of worship, but it is a point of exodus.  I enjoy watching the thousands of people that transfer through this spot.  Migrants on their way between jobs, business people heading for Hong Kong, and the typical lot that frequent bus and train terminals.  I feel safe in these places of limbo.

I spent a fair amount of time underneath this lattice of iron, and a number of people watched as I tried to grasp the feeling I had in one spot or another.  In one particular picture, you can see a man looking above, trying to spot what I might be looking at.  I was actually looking at him, and the effect entertained me to no end.  Feeling sound of mind once more, I headed out to continue with the day.

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Morning Storm

My morning starting with a momentary flash of ultra violet, followed by an organ shoving explosion.  I sat up, looking out of the window in time to see lighting hit a building in the distance several more times, each with a sound I didn’t think possible.

I love thunderstorms, and dashed out to the balcony hoping to record the lighting as it danced across the flat stretch of land between my apartment and the mountains in the distance.  I have been in some unbelievable thunderstorms, but the stuff in Guangzhou is legendary.  These storms are fast, and incredibly loud.  Much as I wanted to continue standing outside, I figured that having my feet in a puddle 18 floors up was not healthy living, even if the building is well grounded.  The lighting hit the crane in the picture above several times, the site located little more than half a mile from my windows.

It rained for almost three hours, and by the time it was done the river below my apartment, normally little more than a trickle, had turned into a monster.  That said, it’s time for a coffee, and hopefully an adventure that will bring more stories to this page.

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