Monday, November 29, 2010

Prosperity at a Price

View from Hong Kong Airport

Unfortunately, I didn't have much of an opportunity to see much of the old China.  It seems that most of us may never have the opportunity as high rise apartments and industrial dormitories dot the skylines of the new China.  

Since Deng Xiaoping, the pace of prosperity has quickened.  It's been at a price as old structures have been torn down to give way to growth.   China has only 65 clean air days per year.   The air contamination alone will shorten the lives of the Chinese more than cigarette smoking.  The pollution was so severe that in the week I was there, I managed to only see a glimpse a partial blue sky for a half a day.  The Sunday we were in Shenzen started out as clear day but the pollution quickly moved in by the day's end.

Texting in China
The truth is that I really didn't see much that was different than I would have seen in any other major city.  Chinese young people are equally a part of the tech generation as their western counterparts.  They love fashion and music and are ready to consume all things branded, but real.  The knockoffs are for us.

Perhaps the next time I travel to China, I will find more photo opportunities then the ones I saw.  Then again, it might be already too late.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mao in the Rearview Mirror

Mao Tse Tung in Rearview Mirror
Shanghai, China

Before we even landed in Hong Kong, I had the distinct impression that we were being monitored.  The Chinese government knew exactly our travel destinations and our travel accommodations.  At any point in time, they could pinpoint exactly where we were.  I suppose you could say that it's not any different than the routine surveillance most corporations practice today on their unsuspecting employees.

This became more apparent to me as we headed further into China from Hong Kong.  As we prepared to take a ferry from the airport to the mainland from Hong Kong, we never saw our bags at customs but we were told that they would be waiting for us on the other side.  It was a huge leap of faith, but I had a feeling the government knew exactly that our bags would be well taken care of.  If you tend to be paranoid, then don't travel to China.

While I was able to access and publish to Facebook in my hotel in Dongguan, once I got to Shanghai (further inland) all bets were off.  It could have been because of the Asian Games going on the time, but it was quite an erie feeling.  The only way that I could access Facebook was via an expensive cell phone connection.  Facebook was blocked for the masses.

China has many bright points.  It is in the midst of an incredible industrial revolution.  It comes however at the expense of losing its architectural and cultural charm.  Most business people never get to see the old China, we get to see the miles and miles of factory dormitories and new apartments.  The proverbial Chinese dragon has been replaced by the tower crane.

As we drove from Suzhou to Shangai I happened to look at our driver's rearview mirror.  That's when I noticed a very familiar face and a reminder of where I really was;  it was the face Mao Tse Tung or Chairman Mao.  While this is a new China and capitalistic, the reminder remains that communism is the party of the land.  I wondered exactly who our driver was and who he worked for.

The new face of the old communist party could in fact be called China Inc.  It draws from the capitalism of the west and incorporates it into a uniquely Chinese spin to fund it's needed infrastructure and economic prosperity and stability for the masses.  The people are liberated to make money but the government dictates what you will hear and what you say.  We should not forget that there are some very basic freedoms that we enjoy as a result of our democracy.  Capitalism only provides economic freedom.  We should not confuse that with what democracy offers.  Deng Xiaoping believed that it didn't matter what color a cat was black or white as long as it could catch mice.  Deng was successful in transforming the China cat.

For several days, while we stayed in Suzhou, I could not be spontaneous and post on Facebook.  Now you know why.  By the way, we never could find mementos of the Asian Games, not even at the Shanghai Airport.  We couldn't find even one T-shirt commemorating the event.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Not Always Black or White

Rooftop Dragons
Hanshan Temple

All Smiles
Hanshan Temple
It was always been black or white for me in the world I grew up in.  For the most part, I was pretty rigid and intolerant of other people's belief's and ideas.  Yet inexplicably, I found quite a bit of tolerance amongst the infidels I was taught to shy away from.  True my values and my strict discipline kept me from the perils of alcohol and drug abuse and guided me to a higher education, but I lost touch with many friends with my isolation.

A door and a chapter closed abruptly in my life during my high school years.  A part of me died back then only to be awakened during this past year on my pilgrimage back home.  Life is not always black or white, perhaps it's the reason why I shoot mostly in vivid color.

Values are something that come from within you; beliefs typically are external to yourself and are taught.  If I had to choose, I would choose those values that come from within me rather than beliefs which I've been taught.  As a photographer, I know that even in a black and white world there are 256 shades of gray.

My world for nearly half a century has been pretty binary, I suppose.  It's ok for me to find the shades of gray and venture out into the world of color.  For the most part, I reckon, I don't have to be all black or white, and nothing says that I have to be all color.

It's better to choose depending on the context of the situation which you choose to be.

Chicklets on The Bridge

Hanshan Temple
Suzhou, China

My grandfather enjoyed telling stories and my father and my uncle Louie would frequently relate them to me.  That could very well be why I enjoy relating stories of what I see on my journey to you.  Story tellers tell.

Handsome Warrior
Suzhou, China

Some stories are like Chicklets on the bridge from Juarez to El Paso.  The bridge is full of children with dirty but smiling faces each carrying boxes of even smaller Chicklets to sell to bored motorist stuck in snaking lines waiting to cross the border.  The carnival atmosphere of children and adult vendors helps to pass the hour or so it takes to migrate back to the US side.

Suzhou, China
Tourist at Hanshan
Suzhou, China
My blogs are no more than Chicklets on the bridge, bits and pieces of me. (I know these images are from China and not Juarez.  My Chicklet story still applies.)  Hopefully, they help you pass time on your wait across today's journey's bridge.  I choose to entertain you with both pictures and words, my voices.  They are my experiences and perceptions of my world.  The veracity of what I see is limited by my own experience and my distortions and filters.  It seems real to me but then again, I might be dreaming all of it.

I sell Chicklets.  Tiny flavorful morsels of what I see from places where I've ventured.  My Chicklets come in many flavors but some might not be for you.  If you don't like to chew gum then please don't buy my Chicklets.

Although I like to please with words and deeds, I also recognize how insurmountable a task it is.  A  wise person once told me:  "you can't draw milk from a dry cow."  Sometimes, I forget, but I do get it now.  Regardless of how hard I tug some cows just don't have it to give and I pray to God that I'm not tugging on a bull.  At times, it sure seems that way.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Whatcha Afraid Of?

Hanshan Temple

I'm sitting here chilling in my media room sipping some red wine and listening to Michael Jackson's "This Is It".  I'm feeling both nostalgic and melancholic, but it's all good.  There's a thought racing through my mind and it has hit me several times this evening.  Look, I've not held back these past few months.  I've not withheld from you.  Here's my dark secret:  I've been more concerned about dyeing than I have concerned myself about living.

That's pretty odd.  It has taken me half a century to realize what so many have tried to teach me.  The events of this year have totally forced me to change how I think and to discard what I use to believe and practice.  My corporate religion changed this year.  I've been excommunicated from the corporate ranks and by my choice have joined the ranks of those that choose their own destiny.  I've allowed myself to feel again and I've chosen to shuck my fears so that I can live.

Two Thousand Years
Hanshan, Suzhou
If someone would have told me that I would journey to China this year, I would have thought they were crazy.  Not only did I go to China but I am ready (after some rest to go back and explore more).  I'm not afraid of living.  All of this is beginning to work out.  The adventure, my business, and my life.  There's  comfort now in ambiguity.  It provides the certainty that I've wanted.  Understanding and coming to grips with it is all part of my journey.

There are so many seconds to capture yet.  My journey is far from over.  There are many stories remaining for me to tell and share.  I've not given up and although my spirit has been trampled, I stand strong and defiant.  My will and my spirit are not broken.  I draw on the strength of my upbringing, my friends and my classmates that I left behind so many years ago.  This is for all of you.

Please don't give up.  Times are tough but we grew up in a tougher time, it was far from easy for us.  I'm a fighter, I simply had forgotten.

It's funny my fingers are flying over the I listen to the MJ tunes....can't help myself, but I'm energized once more.  Don't give up!!!!  I haven't and God knows there have been many times, I wanted to quit and stop chasing my dreams.  This has become very personal.  Nothing and no one will ever put me down again.  I choose to win, fight, and overcome my adversities.  Wherever this takes me, it will be fine.  I've got to let go of the string and let the kite fly.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hanshan Temple

Candles at Hanshan

For those of you who really know me, you know that I would never pass up an opportunity to bring my camera.  Even though I was in China on business, I did bring with me both my iPhone and my SLR.  While most of my time was spent on business, I did have a few occasions to shoot.  We actually did a whirlwind tour of the Buddhist Handshan Temple in Suzhou.

Suzhou Prayerful Pilgrim
Carmen at Hanshan Temple
Suzhou, China
The temple was extremely crowded even during the middle of the week.  It happens to also be a favorite tourist destination for the Chinese.  The temple and its over two thousand year history appeal to many.  For some,  the lure was Disney like and yet for others it was a time of prayer and introspection.

"Carmen" our interpreter was willing to pose for me.  I captured her inside the temple with ambient light hitting her just right.  The camera captured both her contemplativeness and her inner beauty.  The mixture of light and environment only added to the composition.  There was nothing fancy.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Real Dongguan

East Meets West

Let's just say I am a little jet lagged.  As tired as I feel, I do feel obligated to just jot a few thoughts.  China was beyond my wildest expectations in many way.  While I expected it to be very industrial, I had no grasp on the magnitude of their industrial revolution.  China has surpassed us all in a very short span.  It was just yesterday that Richard Nixon ventured into China.

Shenzhen Square
In a few short years, the western world has enabled China to produce more products than they are even allowed to consume.  China Inc.  thrives on producing for the rest of the world to finance its infrastructure projects and maintain economic and social stability at home.  It is a carefully run capitalistic venture.  

We should not confuse their passion for capitalism as a passion for freedom.  The party is still in charge.  Freedom is given but it is not a right.  The state decides what is best for their people.  It is a very well run economic enterprise.

China is now a place where Walmart thrives next to traditional black markets featuring knockoffs of every kind imaginable.  We buy their knock offs and when they shop in America, they seek and buy our name brands.  

My brain is a little fizzled but I promise you that I have both more words and narratives for you.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Picking Up Peanuts With Chopsticks

Too Pretty to Eat

The jet lag has finally set in; I find my head bobbing at the dinner table as if the front of my head was laden with lead implants.  I don't want to miss anything but my body is neither able nor willing to cooperate.

This has been a primarily a business trip.  It truly is amazing how many things we learn as we observe.  I never thought we would conduct our business in slippers.  Our shoes are left behind us before we enter the plant.  

Our business lunch yesterday was pretty interesting.  Of course it's fun to watch them keep adding more food to the lazy Susan in the middle of the table.  We take turns spinning the food wheel of fortune.  We reach out and fill our plates using primarily chopsticks to shovel the food back onto to our plates.  I found it intriguing to try to eat salted peanuts with chopsticks.  It could possibly explain the  paucity of obese people in China.  After a while you simply give up or spend way too much energy trying to get the small stuff.  My focus shifts to shoveling rice into my mouth and trying to find either chicken or beef.  Vegetables are truly a great culinary prize.  They are definitely worth waiting for juicy and succulent to the palette.

If patience is a virtue then the Chinese have incredible amounts of virtue mastered at the dining table.  Good things are worth waiting for even if you have to pick them up with chopsticks.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

If Columbus Had to Fly....

Weary Business Sojourner

If Columbus had to fly to America, we would still be in Europe.  There's no way he would have subjected himself to airline seating.  It simply is an inhumane way to travel over long distances.  The leg from San Francisco to Hong Kong takes fourteen hours!!!  Imagine how wonderful it feels in cramped quarters with no leg or hip room.  It's nearly impossible to sleep and very difficult to get any work done unless you have an iPad.

The hardest part of any journey is simply getting there.  How you spend the time getting there is the difference between a great trip and a seemingly endless one.  If time is all we have then how we utilize time between our destinations along the journey is equally as important as getting there.

It is easy to forget that each minute and hour we have is as important as our destination.  We miss out on an essential part of our journey, if we choose to kill time.  Instead of killing time consider making the most of your time.  Make it meaningful.

When I was younger, I wished the time away.  I couldn’t wait until I graduated or I couldn’t wait until I got older.  Now I am older and I don’t want time to slip by.   As I notice that the days in front of me are less than the ones behind me;  I begin to comprehend the value of my remaining time.

No, I no longer wish to kill time.  I wish to absorb time and utilize each minute and hour as I head towards my final destination.  I recognize that it is equally as important to fill my life with great memories while I complete my journey.  

I am very tired so I won't pontificate this morning. The bed is calling me and I will try to catch some more sleep before I start my first full day in China.  Inspirations will follow, I am sure.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Off to China

I'm Off!!!

Today is a packing day and last minute catchup.  The lists keeps getting longer.  There are so many things I need to remember to pack:  preventative medicine, camera gear, clothes, electronic gadgets and chargers....  The list seems endless.

This trip will be brief and long at the same time.  Nearly a third of our time will be spent in getting there and back.  I am sure our business days will be be packed all day and evening.  Regardless, I hope to get away and at least have several opportunities to find something special that catches my eye.  It sure would make up for the discomfort of being away from my family and enduring the jet lag.  Twenty hours is a very long time for me to sit still.

My brain is whirring with all the possibilities that could result from this trip and opportunity.  I need to keep reminding myself of how fortunate I am; none of this would have happened if I had still been stuck at my old job.  My opportunities now range from east Texas to east China.  This is not bad for a Puerto Rican kid from Winsted, CT.  Some of my dreams are really coming true.  Now if only I could convert some of these dreams into financial realities.  

Financial realities can become nightmares.  You do have to be careful of what you wish for. You might make lots of money but have very little time left to spend it.  I would choose to make the money and buy more time.  There's so much left to see and learn and such little time.  For those near my age, stop waiting until you retire to do things.  The clock is ticking for all of us, it's just a matter of time;  a real life game of Russian roulette awaits us all.  There's no need to postpone things any longer.  Living awaits us all today.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

This Side of China

Cascade at Winchester Lake
Winchester, CT

Cascade Curios
There's just a few days left before I leave for China.  I wont be digging my way there.   I will be letting the currents of change navigate the way.  This has been a tumultuous year with lots of surprises.  I might as well see where it takes me.

The only promise I've kept to myself is that I simply would go wherever the journey leads me.  Life is more interesting that way.  I've abandoned lots of my old structure and allowed myself the opportunity to just be. Old conventions and rules simply no longer work for me.  Armed with knowledge and curiosity, I've got to press on.  There's simply too much to experience and absorb before the journey ends.  I know there's nothing rational about it but what appeared to me to be sane for all these years now seems dreadfully insane.  

I'm not afraid of what lies on the other side of this cascade.  The water's motion entices me.  It's insane not to live.  It's even more insane not to try.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Needs Some Work

Needs Some Work
Mt. Pleasant, Tx

Last week, I spent some time working in East Texas. Things have a way of slowing down as accents change and I found myself slowing down as well.  

Although I had reminded myself that I was there for work, I did spot this old truck twice with the corner of my eye.  It sat in a field just a few yards from my last customer call of the day.  I couldn't just ignore it could I?  

In English literature there's a term when words are written like the sounds they represent:  smash, bang, crash, etc.  The term is called onomatopoeia.  (Yes, Mrs. Fortuna, I actually fooled you and was paying attention in class, not just daydreaming.)  I wish I could invent a photographic term for images that I captured that represent how I feel.  I think I will take a Sarah Palin moment and conjure my own vocabulary:  photo-essence.

As I studied the truck before I shot it, I developed my strategy to capture the beauty that was still in it.  I knew how the colors would appear as the late autumn sun cast it's glow on the subject and I knew how the shadows would lie.  There would be some warm tones to contend with for sure.  The image would be great with those tones coming through, I thought.

Yeah this old truck needs some work but you really have to look beyond that.  As beaten up as this truck is, it still has plenty of life and a great story to tell.  For now the truck resides in an East Texas field, but one day someone will find it and make something again with the relic.  In the meantime, the story remains untold.

Photo-essence, I like the term.  Yes that's me in the photograph out in the field.  I just need a little work and someone to appreciate what I have to offer.  Don't discard me yet.  There's a picture waiting to be made.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Autumn Daydream

High School Daydream
Winsted, CT

Some who remember me in high school thought of me as a serious student.  Few knew that I was a daydreamer.  Autumn brought it out most in me.  In fact, I was caught red handed staring at the hillside beneath our school by my English teacher, Elaine Fortuna.  She was merciful in her reproach and smiled the whole way while she brought my attention back to the subject of the day.

I am grateful that she didn't discourage my dreaming.  She knew I was enamored by the fall colors.  They were spectacular then and even more so in the dreams I have had since remembering them.  She caught a glimpse of my real nature.  She knew I was more artistic and creative than even I knew.  Instead of snuffing it, she let me bask in all the colors that I could view through my window perch.

That day the hillside was ablaze with color.  It's hard to write about something like this unless you've actually witnessed it.  She let me witness it.  Today, I write:  "the hillsides were ablaze with color.  It was a natural fire of color that only heavy winds, frost, and the onset of winter could extinguish."

My pilgrimage back to my home town afforded me the opportunity to reminisce and to enjoy what I've missed every year since I left.  Although it was thirty-six years ago, the memories are as real as yesterday.  The hillside remains ablaze in my mind.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Autumn Perspective

Riverton, CT 

Heublein Trail
This time of the year, I miss the country hillsides of New England.  As a kid,  I enjoyed slipping into the countryside and hiking.  I found that the autumn countryside afforded a unique solace.  Floating colorful leaves and sweet smells filled these memories.  Things seemed to slow down and I used the added time to put things once again in perspective.

Each day, I remind myself to put it all in perspective.  I try to grasp that I am not the only one going through this journey, that there are other passengers.  Mine is not a unique sojourn only my experiences are uniquely mine.

Pond and Autumn Drizzle
There are so many things I still want to do.  I think back about my New England days and I meditate about the things that made me calm.  Somethings have changed but the person I am has not.  Today, I need to rely on my experiences and draw from the well.  Time to reflect on childhood autumns to refresh and renew.  The journey is long; it's good to take pause.