When I were a lad , we used a thing called FILM! Smalll canisters with rolls of silver dye covered plastic inside that we would put inside a camera to give us up to 36 Shots! We would take it to the laboratory and they would process them to things called transparencies? You don’t see quality like that today with your fancy new digital gadgets on your iPhone app.
Ok , it wasn’t quite that long ago, but its been a while.
From 1996 -2000 I worked alongside designer Athena Sommerfeld and Journalists Shona Jennings and Stephen Knight to produce a quarterly inflight magazine for the then National airline of Samoa, Polynesian airlines ( since amalgamated into Virgin blue).
Market stall proprietors at Maketi Fou, Apia
The brief was to sell Samoa as a destination, not just the white sand beaches and sunshine ( and there was plenty of that ) but also to show the way Samoan people lived and worked at an everyday level as well, and to create a vehicle which conveyed the experience of Samoa. Rather than the resort style of island holiday , we were also promoting a more cultural “ecotour” type of experience.
While we always planned ahead with regard to articles and features we would be working on. We needed to have a lot of flexibility as situations often changed and many fresh opportunities presented themselves during our stays there . Magazine layouts were planned out in advance and we talked about what sort of aspects of Samoa we wanted to illustrate and in what kind of style they might be best represented in .
I used 35mm and medium format film cameras. I really enjoyed using the Pentax 6x7cm camera . It was big and slow to use but the colour and saturation it produced often reproduced so much better in print than 35mm and gave great separation of subject matter from the background. Fuji film was used , usually Velvia 50 or 100 .
A number of different chefs were employed by the school to produce the recipes, with support staff from the school who sourced products and did prep work.
Keeping the food looking fresh was a priority. Natural lighting was used ( somewhat modified with reflectors and diffusion ) because it really seems to maintain the natural colours and tones better than artificial studio lighting.
The work was shot over two weeks . Consistency with the light and also the different styles of the chefs who worked on the book was a priority , also selecting the appropriate dishes and materials for the shots. Sometimes seasonal food considerations became an issue .
The book has sold well and now is almost at the end of its second edition .
Chapter opener – pies , one pot casseroles and bakes.
Chapter opener – pasta , rice and noodles
White baked alfonsino with seasonal vegetables
pan seared gurnard with seafood and tuscan olive risotto
chapter opener – pan seared, deep fried and sauteed
simple grilled leatherjackets
sesame crusted tuna with asian greens
grill- fired king prawns with a fresh asian salad and mango / chilli lime dressing
citrus stuffed fish parcels
Asian style barbecue oysters
ocean fresh snapper kokoda
pacific rim fish cakes with citrus/coriander dipping sauce
I really enjoyed the time I spent in Xi’an , and was starting to feel quite at home exploring the areas within the city walls, trying the different food styles. It seemed sometimes from the conversation in the hostel that many of the westerners staying were taking refuge from the foreignness of the exterior, and had lurid stories of the strange food and experiences. Xi’an is a modern city but it was the beginning of the silk road so has a real mix of cultures and cuisine. Maybe it was all to much for them to absorb .
Booking a berth on a sleeper train was a straightforward affair as despite priming myself with all the right language I was quite deflated when it turned out the woman in the ticket in the office spoke perfect English. I discovered it pays to book early as there are a lot of people coming through Xi’an from further in the interior so the trains are well patronised. I had planned to be a little bit adventurous and go hard sleeper, but was in unable to book one so fortunately had to go Soft sleeper. 16 hours on a train was a novelty for me, still suffering from the flu I was glad to be able to do it in comfort. When you go soft sleeper, you get to wait in the comfortable soft seat lounge at the station and are spared the scramble for the platform. Thank goodness as it turned into quite a long wait.
Finally we were permitted to go on to the platform to the train.
I only just settled into the berth and was idly staring at the platform and wondering if I should go out and buy some more food when I was greeted by and extraordinary spectacle. Two travellers who turned out to be Mexican waving fists full of RMB at the Guard as they wanted to upgrade from the hard sleepers they had originally booked. It seemed they were getting the last train out of some disaster and more and more money appeared. ”We have money!” they declared.
Their English wasn’t that great and the guard had none so I found myself in the roll of incompetent interpreter. Despite the traveller’s hysteria, the guard was unfussed and found them room on the car, having to shift a few of the other passengers around so they could be in the same compartment. She said to me there was no need for any trouble, it happened all the time. As long as they could pay the extra charge it just took a little patience to work something out. Sadly I couldn’t make the most of the opportunity to extend the conversation. But I was relieved I hadn’t found myself in the same situation.
The train was fairly uneventful. The compartment had four berths but was spacious and comfortable. There was plenty of room for luggage above the door. I shared with two others, but for the most part of the journey we all slept. I got up a couple of times to walk the length of the carriage, to see the bleary eyed guard sitting in her office. At some point she retired and another guard took over duty. When the sun came up the train passed through dusty towns and villages , past power stations and farms. It was all very similar, but pretty in the early morning sun. At a very early hour the radio started, blaring out cross talk ( a form of spoken chinese comedy not dissimilar to English speaking comic duos) then at one point exercise suggestions , along with a count . Looking out into the hallway, I discovered many of the older passengers out there actually doing the exercises while admiring the view.
Eventually we arrived in Suzhou ( Venice of the east!) where I disembarked . I walked out of the platform and immediately into what seemed like a wall of touts and vendors. Clearly it was a slow day the way they converged on to the single foreigner disembarking the train. I bought a map and then started to look for a taxi. I had many offers for taxis from the crowd, but stuck to the plan and got a taxi from the rank, which was half the price I had been quoted by other non official taxis!.
Leaving Qingdao the dragon bus took us through some of the larger industrial areas in this part of China, and also gave us a view of some of the spectacular construction projects going on . In one case, it was the 38km long bridge spanning a bay.
A bridge outside Qingdao stretches across a bay
A comfortable 5 hr ride took us to Qufu and to the birthplace of Confucius and the home of the Confucius family.
Qufu is a fascinating place, It still has the city wall and within it is set up for the large numbers of Asian tourists who come to the home of Confucius. After reading the entry in the lonely planet guide I wasn’t expecting much, but in fact they were wrong . While it is a little touristy, its not expensive and in fact my experiences with the locals were very positive. The temple, residence and tomb were all worth seeing. The hostel was clean and comfortable and if you didn’t feel like venturing out the food was ok.
After we arrived in Qufu, Andy and I decided to go to find some food, the others decided on an early night. Most places were winding down for the night ( and highly uninspiring) and eventually we got in a taxi and asked him where the locals would go at such a late hour. He drove us out of the city walls and to a small local restaurant where we had a delicious meal of various dishes and the small delicious lamb kebabs ( 羊肉串,if you are trying to find it on the menu, just remember the character that looks like a kebab and you are pretty much there).
China always fascinated me, one of the big pieces of Asia on the map that along with Russia , was carefully avoided when questions came up at school about what those countries were . China was always Taiwan to us and the other places were too godlessly communist to mention. Meeting recent immigrants to New Zealand made the place even more intriguing with their stories of the capitals of China, Beijing and Xi’an ( formerly Chang’an , the capital of the tang dynasty in the 8th and ninth centuries).The German city of Qingdao ( a German city in China? At the turn of the 19th century, the Germany had owned by treaty the place and hurriedly put up a city in German style. It must have been at breakneck pace judging by the size of the original city and the number of buildings from that era still remaining) Along with Shanghai and the ancient water town of Suzhou , it really is an interesting (and huge ) place. And that is just the north and not the interior or the southern regions or Tibet!
These days it seems to be the number one concern of the rest of the world . What will china do? And strangely for a communist country , it now seems to have the most efficiently functioning capitalist system the world has seen. Of course it isn’t either, its a Chinese system , with all the apparent contradictions that implies to western sensibility. Why there wouldn’t be one never seems to occur to the western media , but seems to make perfect sense to all Chinese , whichever their political persuasion. I can’t remember in the economic rules where it says capitalism has to have a western style democracy to function.
Beijing family in Hutongs ( traditional alleyways) enjoying spring sunshine
Part of the temple of heaven , Beijing
Beijing opera actor applies makeup
Making breakfast , Beijing
Dumpling stall , Beijing
I planned a working trip/holiday there and thought it might be a good idea to take some language lessons before I went. Unexpectedly I found my self fascinated by the concept of a tonal language , and the arcane but highly sophisticated writing system . I was , and still am , very enthusiastic about learning more about chinese culture , language and cuisine.
Photographically I wanted to explore another country and culture , particularly one where English wasn’t a major language, and to see what I could achieve traveling relatively in that kind of environment.
I had worked in Thailand and the Pacific previously , and was keen to see some really major cities again ( call me crazy but living near a nice beach and the sea,in a relatively rural setting – I wanted something a little different.)
Tiananmen square , Beijing
I expected to ease into using the language on arrival in Beijing. Despite the previous eighteen months with regular lessons I didn’t feel confident , but arriving off the plane by myself was quite a shock . I needed to speak mandarin straight away to do the basics , find a taxi and get to the hostel then buy food . Thankfully the hostel staff there and later in other places all had a very good command of English , but once outside the doors it was a different situation.
I spent a couple of days in Beijing by myself , exploring the city , experiencing a few of the tourist traps and well run historical sites. I spent half a day in the forbidden city and sadly it wasn’t enough time . despite having purchase a map at the entrance , I found it to big to take in in the time I had allocated. I had by passed the hall of clocks with the thought that it might not be that interesting but later seeing the fabulous timepieces in that location I regretted the decision.
Bridal photographers window , Beijing
After carefully avoiding the year of the Olympics , I had found an independant tour company that seemed to offer what I was looking for , independent travel with language and logistical support . On the internet I found www.dragonbuschina.com, it seemed to be the solution to the sort of service I was looking for , rather than the package tour kind of trip with sights and Hotels included.
It was avery good experience and way to travel China, and although we went to places that seemed obvious tour destinations , there were often few , if any other europeans there . In fact the bulk of tourists in China are chinese , going to experience some of the highlights of the country often for the very first time .
Electrical wire Beijing
Comrade Obama in Beijing shop window
Our Guide Andy’s knowledge of local areas and appreciation of aspects of chinese life was impressive. An Australian married to a chinese woman who spoke fluent mandarin and has lived in China for nine years, he had a good knowledge of how everything worked and how to interact with Chinese.
After meting the other members of the tour , we unanimously agreed at our hostel in Beijing the first thing we all wanted to do was see the Great wall, Although a day trip was included , we all were very keen to see it , even if it meant going to Badaling , the main great wall tour destination. Andy warned us it might be a little crowded and so it turned out to be, with a mass of humanity moving up and down the wall between the first three towers heading up the hill , after that as the hill got steeper, the crowd thinned out . Nevertheless , the approach to the great wall was an awe inspiring experience and to see Chairman Mao’s statement that “if you haven’t been to the great wall then you aren’t a real man” was greatly encouraging to my masculinity. After the trip to the Great wall , we spent the afternoon at the temple of heaven , another vast historical site in Beijing . On entering the exterior park we encountered many , mostly older people playing shuttlecock ( where a shuttlecock is kicked around a circle of people) and others talking and playing musical instruments. The weather was cool , so every one including us , was dressed warmly.
A couple of years ago I was given the a job to produce a number of photographs for a tourism brochure for Samoa. The deadline was very tight and so was the brief, a range of photographs had to be produced making Samoa appealing as a holiday destination . I had spent some time working there some years before so knew a little of what to expect in terms of the conditions there , so was well equipped for the assignment. The weather proved unexpectedly challenging but fortunately was never for too long.