Europe loves its Christmas Markets, the festive mood, the warm drinks cuddled by cold hands, the delicious smells of roasted almonds and the magical lights that chase away the darkness of winter. From the first advent till the winter solstice, people try to spend as much time as possible out in the markets calling on hope, warmth and light to comfort them through the long hard winters.
In the last 2 weeks I went with my camera and some fellow photographers chasing the Christmas spirit from Valkenburg in the Netherlands to Duesseldorf and then today to magical Cologne.
After about a 4 hour flight from Shanghai to Kunming in Yunnan and sorting out the small inevitable complications like changing cars, drivers, lunch and settling everyone to a journey of unexpected events, we set off to our first stop on the workshop, the town of Shiping.
After a first night not short of adventure and discovery in the streets of the old town, we set off in the morning with the freedom one gets after leaving a questionable hotel without having to look back.
girl in wagon
All packed, cameras charged, armed with snacks and water bottles we set off only to discover that our bus (that we grew to love) had a flat tire. We were informed that the repairs will take longer than expected. When asked why, the answer was “people in these parts are just not efficient enough”. I swallowed the answered and decided to make the best of a bad situation.
I invited everyone to use the 2 hours to explore and we found ourselves in an unforgettable market! Photo opportunities everywhere, people, children, faces, color, it was wonderful.
on a scale of old to new
During the time there, I was utterly charmed by a group of children who followed me around jumping, giggling, acting silly, jumping into every frame I tried to create. It then dawned in me that the best thing to do would be to just stop trying and instead of capture life, just live it. I played with them and my students photographed them and the whole affair was effervescent and a special gift to start the journey with.
how they stole the show and my heart
Saima and Petra with the children
Photo of me taken by Saima with the children at the market.
It is wonderful to be reliving the adventure in Honghe through the stories and images as I busily plan the next one in Dali this coming June.
A dew drop on a fresh flower petal at dawn radiates a beauty beyond anything we humans can create…
The concept of beauty is a funny one. What is considered beautiful in one culture can be completely unattractive in another. In China where we live, big noses are considered attractive, while tan skin is not, and ladies walk around with umbrellas during the sunny days to protect their fairness. In the west, we work very hard on shaping our eyebrows to achieve a minimal look, whereas in Asia, the unibrow is a sought after symbol of beauty.
I find beauty in the varying concept of beauty. I love traveling the world and learning its different ways. I love the fact that we humans are able to express ourselves in so many varied ways and to respond to land radiations and let them permeate our ways, from food, dress, thought, religion, fashion, even down to our perceptions of beauty.
One of the wildest things to witness in Kashgar is the livestock market. Animals are brought in early in the morning by local salesmen on trucks, horseback carriages, and other vehicles and are lined up together for merchants from all over China to bargain for and buy. The condition of the animals and the handling of them can leave you in a state of shock, but that is how things have always been done at this market. I walked there with my camera in the middle of clouds of dust and symphonies of sheep, goats, cows, horses, donkeys, camels and other livestock and as always, I was mostly caught by the people.
This little boy was being trained into the trade as with other young boys by his father, and he sat in the middle of the market, money in one hand, lollypop in the other while the sales were being negotiated.
I don’t think I can remember a single meal at our home in Lebanon that did not include Lebanese bread. There is a saying in Lebanon “between us is bread and salt” which means that we are friends, we are close, we are on ‘sharing life’ terms. And as a child I remember that neighbors’ doors were always open and we children were able to just walk in and out throughout the neighborhood without any type of formality. We had a neighbor living right across the little road from us and she used to have a special old fashioned oven called saj outside her home where she made fresh bread. I still remember smelling the firewood burning signaling the start of the bread making process and running up to her home with wide eyes as she happily made us her special bread called “mtabbkah”. This was a flat loaf sprinkled with sugar and then folded to let the sugar melt inside and it was mouthwatering.
With the modernism of Lebanon, these types of ovens are becoming a rarity. I was so thrilled to see the special traditional market in the center of Beirut (souk el tayyeb) that celebrates old traditions and the best of homemade delicacies that Lebanon has to offer.
Lebanese people are known to travel the world, perhaps having something to do with their Phoenician ancestry. But as with any other country, there are the few who are left behind to guard the innocence. I mean the kind of innocence that is so endearing it borders and utter kindness.
This is the kind of old man who would ask you where you are coming from assuming from you camera that you must be a tourist, otherwise why would you want to photograph a stupid vegetable stall. And then you answer, something like Shanghai, and he then goes on to ask you if you know so and so who is married to so and so, whose friend travelled to China, and did you happen to meet them there? It is so lovely to meet people like this, where simplicity is a joy, and life is uncomplicated, basic, uncluttered with too much information.
Eyes like these are much more easily brought to glow of wonder.
You just know the world is getting slowly integrated into a harmonious world citizenship state of affairs, when you are like me Lebanese/American, living in Shanghai and meeting a Uyghur man from Xinjiang at the German Christmas market attended by more than 30 nationalities and somehow thinking it all a normal everyday event. I was recently in Xinjiang and I was fascinated by the brightness and friendliness of the Uyghur minority and this man was no exception.
She has to lay her blankets down on the pavement every day, line up her jewelry, her necklaces, her bracelets, one by bone, in straight lines. She organizes by color, by style, every morning and while she waits for her customers of the day she knits for her child, stitch by stitch, line by line. I can only imagine how organized this lady’s mind must be and how lined up her thoughts are.
Something in us seems to have a great fascination with the past. We are very curious about people who lived before us, about their stories, her-story, his-tory. Yes, history is fascinating to most. There is a great nostalgia that we feel when we walk by an antique; we try to imagine who used it, what they were like, what they felt, what their secrets were. The past did happen and is concrete, so the discovery of its events is thrilling. Whereas the future is a daunting unknown that we tend to shy away from and to relegate to the realms of the unexplained and the out of reach. Maybe this is part of the reason we hang on to antiques, collect them and treasure them and look forward to the stories that they may tell.
photo taken in Dong Tai Lu antique street ~ Shanghai
China is a country that celebrates tea, lives with tea and integrates it into the its very core of daily life. Every one you see carries a large tea glass or cup around with them, the taxi driver, the office worker, the men, the women, young and old…
They have different tea types for different times of the year, different combinations, a different tea for your age, your sex, your health, your weight….. it is just an incredibly complex science. I love to go buy my tea in the large tea markets where they willingly sit with you for an hour letting you sample the different tea kinds till you find the right one for you. The ceremony is soothing, slow and quite magical. Yesterday I walked around the old town for a long time and when I saw this tea house, it was such a wonderful break to sit there for 30 minutes sampling the tea with this lovely lady. I ended up buying the tea I was missing (oolong ginseng) even though it is not the right time of year to drink it. In the Spring green tea is recommended!