From Farm to Market

The marketplace was another scene that fascinated me while I traveled in Asia. Like the farm, the market represents a “down to earth” experience that I find missing in my daily American life. It reminds us of the simplicity of life within small communities before modern transportation, refrigeration, packaging and supermarket shopping changed lifestyles around the world.

While traveling in China, Thailand and Vietnam I found beauty in the natives bringing their food and artifacts to market. This post begins a new theme, MARKETPLACE, for my blog. And I begin with my favorite image — an old woman in Shanghai, sitting with her large cart of fresh vegetables. I share this image with you in both color and black and white. I think the monochrome image helps to make the scene timeless. Was this 2008 or 1958?

And rendered in monochrome with Silver Efex Pro:

I hope you noticed the bikes in the background. This is a foreshadowing of a future theme in my photography. I will be sharing with photographs that feature bicycles and mopeds in the future.

Shopping: Shanghai pearls and beads

It’s pretty natural to talk about pearl shopping in China, after talking about silk shopping in China. The umbrella topic of shopping in China is one of my favorite topics. As my husband discovered long ago, I love to shop overseas and China is one of the last great places on Earth where the American with U.S. dollars can find outstanding value. Europe has become oh, so expensive.

Prices aside, the selection of both pearls and silk in China (and Vietnam and Thailand) is extraordinary. My daughter advised me to come to China with a list, so I knew who was on my gift list and what types of clothing my wardrobe could use most. A visit to a pearl peddler, a silk shop or a tailor can be mind boggling, as the choices will blow you away.

My Canadian friend Louise was pretty excited about pearl and silk shopping, too. Louise’s friend brought us to this tiny but wonderful shop near the Bund in Shanghai to buy some pearls for ourselves and our families and friends. Yes, they were affordable, and the ladies would even create a new necklace or pendant for us on the spot, if we dreamed up a design that was not already assembled. October 26, 2008 was a very fun day!

If you couldn’t find something you liked here, there would definitely be something wrong with you!

When I was returning to the U.S. by air and passing through U.S. Customs, the agent was suspicious that I was bringing back merchandise to sell. No, I explained, there are lots of girls in my family, and all these are gifts.

I like to personalize my posts and travel stories. Here I asked my daughter to pose with the pearls we had laid out on the counter to purchase. Louise and I were taking a long time to make all these decisions. I hope someday I can go back…

Shopping in Hangzhou

I was telling a friend about Louise and I venturing off to Longjing China to hike the tea plantations in a taxi, where we had an impermeable language barrier with the driver. She laughed and shook her head, and said, “I would probably go shopping or something!”  I admitted that Louise and I did go shopping the following day ;). Hangzhou is also known for its silk market — a few miles of outdoor stalls selling countless variety of scarves, ties, pajamas…mostly scarves. Well, I can go just as crazy shopping for silk scarves as I can shopping for pearls in China. I came home from this trip with enough pearls and scarves to open a small shop. I had to assure the customs agent that I did not in fact plan to restock my retail shop!  Oh yes, I have a few stories about passing through customs.

Anyway, I thought we shouldn’t leave Hangzhou without sharing our fantastic day of scarf shopping. Louise and I decided on this day that we were perfectly matched travelers, and  that our husbands would not have gone along with a full day of shopping before it was time to catch the train back to Shanghai. This photo sets the scene.

I found many beautiful scarves that became wonderful gifts to family and friends when I returned home. They are so easy to pack: taking little room in the suitcase and of course non-breakable. As a gift, a beautiful scarf always gets “oohs and aahs,” and they are much easier to select for others than jewelry. Gee, talking about it makes we want to go back!  Louise was also looking for a yellow and black scarf at a good price point to give to members of the cross country running team when she returned (Quaker Valley colors). In this photo, you can see that she finally found it — after hours of searching 😉

While shopping, I still kept my eye out for interesting scenes on the street. I am always attracted to the marketplace in my travels. In China, the marketplace is everywhere, thanks to street vendors. This one was selling fruit — pomelos perhaps?

Tea Plantation near Hangzhou China

Just wondering today if I had photographed another farm in a faraway land…and I remembered that October day (2008) when my friend Louise and I hiked a tea plantation in east China. So, how did this plan develop for the unlikely pair? We are one Canadian and one American, neighbors in Pennsylvania (USA), English speakers and pretty good French speakers, but not Mandarin Chinese speakers. Louise and I flew to Shanghai to visit my daughter Caitlin, who was working there for Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. Both Louise and I love to travel, and I visited Louise when she lived in Paris (2004). Like me, Louise is an intrepid traveler and was experienced traveling in Asia (since she once lived in Taiwan and Indonesia). So, we took the high speed train out of Shanghai for an overnight trip to Hangzhou during the week. We had reserved a room at the Sofitel and had plans to follow Caitlin’s tips on what to do in Hangzhou. (Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang Province in the Yangtze river delta, is 110 miles SW of Shanghai and home to 21 million people. It is famous for its scenic West Lake and pagoda.)

Caitlin had recently visited two of her American friends in Hangzhou (all three speak Mandarin fluently), and they had enjoyed hiking through the tea plantations in Longjing — a rural area about 30 minutes by taxi out of Hangzhou. The concierge at the Sofitel was able to explain to the taxi driver to please drop us off at a tea plantation, and wait for us, and bring us back to the hotel a few hours later. So, without a common language between us and the cab driver, off we went to hike and photograph the tea plantations.  Upon arrival, we were impressed with mountainsides lined with rows of tea bushes.

So we walked the paths up one mountain and then the next, looking for different vistas and tea workers. Here is a photo of Louise along the path.

Of course, all we could do was wave and smile when we encountered a person. Fortunately, the farmers didn’t seem to mind.

The vistas, the shapes found in the fields and the simplicity of the rural scene were beautiful. It was a good location for some candid photography.

Next week, I will post a few more photographs from the tea plantations including one of Louise and myself sitting down to taste the Longjing tea where a nice lady invited us (with sign language), apparently hoping we would buy some to take home.

Between Hanoi and Halong Bay

While traveling between Hanoi and Halong Bay in Vietnam, we came upon some men and women working in flooded rice paddies. It was planting season. We were fascinated to see the water buffalo dragging the plow, and the women bending over to pick and separate the seedlings. Surely, we were far from home, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.  The climate was much warmer in Vietnam, too. It was early February, 2008. I hope you enjoy these photos I took after I hopped out of the van for a closer look.

I saved the best for last. I captured the graceful curve in the worker’s arm. This image reminds me of the grace and beauty of the farmer in 19 century French painting. I have made a beautiful and unique auratone print with this image. It is a gem, in my opinion.

Guilin Rice Farmer

As we continue to follow the theme of realist images of workers, I would like to share with you the rice farmer we stopped to watch, along a road in Guilin, China. She was harvesting the tall rice plants with a sickle, and the picturesque nature of the scene reminded me immediately of Millet’s 19c. paintings. Our private guide knew my interest in photography, so she stopped our van alongside this field when she spotted the woman working. Quietly we emerged from the van and watched her, and at first she toiled on, unaware of us.

Next, she began to assemble her thresher. (Not being a farmer, I am guessing at the correct term.)

When she looked up to see our family of five quietly observing her — and me quietly photographing her — she smiled, and with gestures invited us to come closer to see what she was doing. Then, she led my husband Charlie and daughter Erin to run some of the rice plants through the thresher to experience the process. It was a beautiful moment of sharing between people from opposite sides of the globe, who knew not a word of the other’s language. It was a spontaneous moment of cultural sharing that we cherish and will never forget.

Fishermen in China

One of the benefits of a trip to China is the opportunity to see how so many activities are done differently. Religion, cuisine and many customs are new and different to visiting Americans. One activity that caught my eye was fishing. Seeing the nets used from the shoreline or from a small handmade craft made me think of man’s legacy with fishing. Fishing has been practiced this way for centuries. Who would suspect these photographs were taken in 2005?

This first photograph was taken one warm and humid July evening in Yichang, a city of 1.3 million people along the Yangtze River. During our week on the Yangtze, the river was uniformly brown, spoiling my vision for the look I had hoped for my photographs of the Three Gorges. My family was amazed by the size of the man’s net.

In Guilin, much further south in China, the Li River promised more great photo opportunities. Guilin is particularly scenic because of the limestone peaks covered with greenery that create dramatic backdrops to views of the river and the rice fields. At the end of our day cruise in Guilin, I spotted these fisherman coming in with their raft and pole. Barely visible in the distant background are two more such rafts with fishermen, chasing their catch with nets on poles.  If I have the opportunity to return to Guilin, I will make myself wake up early before dawn to photograph the fishermen who use cormorants to fish; the cormorants (long-necked birds) catch the fish, and the fishermen remove the fish before the bird swallows it, as I understand it.