There is this heavy metal band that I listen to on a regular basis named Slipknot and they have a song titled “Duality”. This song alternates between the heavy metal that most would dub “noise” and a calmer, completely comprehendible singing, hence the name. I have been thinking of this song for most of the last thirteen days of my travels throughout China. There is a capitalist economy here where people shop at malls purchasing name brands like Chanel, Fendi, and believe it or not Mercedes, while outside of the mall there are tribes people selling their homemade wears. This place is bordering on the bizarre. Beautiful, natural places are engineered to highlight the most spectacular viewpoints, which are then packed with…well one billion Chinese. I finally found a place in the world where the traffic is worse than Seattle. I know, I know, there are tons of places like that, but I am here now.
In the same breath, I love and completely hate this place. Experiencing another culture is always amazing and the trip has been just that-an experience. We started in Shanghai studying and photographing the amazing modern architecture that seems to transform before your eyes. Things change very quickly here, I guess when you have so many people willing to put forth an effort, change is inevitable. Then we headed for Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain) that holds an almost indescribable beauty, which is ruined by the cigarette smoke of tens of thousands daily visitors. With all those people comes tremendous ingenuity too, which has allowed me to visit stunning viewpoints with a network of walkways and trails that highlight the best surrounding stone features.
Then on to the rice terraces near Yuang Yang, a place whose history dates back thousands of years. There are 6000 foot peaks completely terraced out for crop growing. This creates some of the most dramatic, abstract, reflective landscapes out there. Again, with areas constructed to take advantage of the best viewing platforms that are again, shared with a billion Chinese photographers. Nature has never felt so crowded? God I can only imagine what this place was like twenty or thirty years ago. I did experience a local market here too which had me filling flash cards like no tomorrow.
I definitely fought the same red pill and green pill decision that Neo had make in the first episode of the Matrix when I decided to travel to China. I honestly had mixed emotions, mainly because of the 17 day trip away from my family. The positive side of this is that absence makes the heart grow fonder and I am experiencing that first hand right now. God I would kill for a turkey burger from Larkburger in Edwards, Colorado with a 5 dolla’ strawberry milkshake. “That is pretty good fuckin’ shake,” and worth every penny too. Yes, that does mean the food leaves a lot to be desired. That was the other thing I heard from those who have come before me. “Good luck, the food sucks.” I have now had six good meals in thirteen days of breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is what it is I guess. Luckily I had the brain power to pack enough ProBars to last the entire trip. A little taste of home in a not so homey place.
There is a drive to push China past the 21st century, but even with all their technological advances there is an uber wealthy class followed by a completely poverty stricken class. You can be staying in the nicest, cleanest hotel in the dirtiest city, eating the worst food, and meeting the most interesting people, while putting up with twenty chain smokers, drinking the best beer, riding in the slowest bus, watching the most modern freighter pass you heading up river, while getting cursed out by a local tribes person for taking their photo, while their neighbor invites you in for tea, as you fill up the last flash card in your camera pack, before trying to fall asleep on a mattress made of solid wood.
Now I am riding in our tour bus for ten hours to get on a plane for two more additional hours to Guilin to explore the Li River area. This is where my friend and co-leader Art Wolfe photographed his popular “Night Fishermen” image. I have decided I am going to copy that shot, because I have brainwashed him into thinking it would be a good idea. I am wondering how this area will be perceived by me? Probably not much different than everything so far–Duality.