China lite

from Beijing to Shanghai

 

Hello! Long time no speak. Almost a year in fact. Not good! So I finally made time this week to play with some pics from a brief trip Coco and I did earlier in the year to China.

It was a quick flit across the oceans for Coco to see her dad (based in Beijing) and then a few days just her and me in Shanghai.

Despite the fact I grew up in Hong Kong, I’d never been to China (it was closed back then – yes, that long ago…). So instead of doing my usual avoid-the-icons thing, I played tourist and hit the big ticket items.

You could spend lifetimes exploring China so a few days was no time at all. And I wasn’t really in matching-up-pairs or diptych mode when I was shooting. But months later, looking at the images again, I’ve managed to marry up some pairs.

Let’s go China!

Part 1: Beijing

Over the course of a few days I visited the Forbidden City, a few hutongs and my favourite – the Yonghe Lama Temple.

Starting with a shot of the military in front of the Forbidden City. I clicked the camera just as I heard “NO PHOTOS!” Alas, the shot was already taken…

 

forbidden shot in the Forbidden City

forbidden shot in the Forbidden City

 

 

 

 

at play vs on guard

at play vs on guard

 

 

 

 

so clean

surprisingly clean

 

 

 

Next, the hutongs, which are charming old alleys with small courtyard homes (siheyuan) running off them, that are fast disappearing.

 

hutong life

hutong life

 

 

 

 

home pride

home pride

 

 

 

 

hutongs, under grey then blue heavens

hutongs, under grey then blue heavens

 

 

 

 

guard dog

guard dog

 

 

 

 

dining under open heavens in the hutongs

al fresco dining in the hutongs

 

 

 

 

See that beautiful blue sky by the way? That’s one of the surprises of China, that you expect the air to live up to its terrible reputation all the time. Often it was brilliant blue. Then just as you were getting used to breathing without wincing, the smog (‘fog’) would roll in…

 

from on high – all the better to see the smog

from on high – all the better to see the smog

 

 

 

I loved nosing around the hutongs, but my favourite site in Beijing was the Yonghe Lama Temple. The incense, the gorgeous old buildings, and a woman wearing a flower print skirt and cropped yellow jacket…

 

a young crowd in an ancient setting – Yonghe Lama Temple :: 1

a young crowd in an ancient setting – Yonghe Lama Temple :: 1

 

 

 

 

a young crowd in an ancient setting – Yonghe Lama Temple :: 2

a young crowd in an ancient setting – Yonghe Lama Temple :: 2

 

 

 

 

sacred screens

sacred screens

 

 

 

 

sacred study

sacred study

 

 

 

Okay, so see that lady with the yellow jacket? I thought she had a great look, especially wondering around this beautiful temple, so I kind of stalked her. For a bit. Okay, a while.

 

flower girl

flower girl

 

 

 

 

stalking the flower girl :: 1

stalking flower girl

 

 

 

 

farewell flower girl, sorry about stalking you

farewell flower girl, sorry about stalking you

 

 

Last but not least, there was ‘tracksuit man’, from another major site, the Summer Palace.

 

tracksuit man

tracksuit man

 

 

Part 2: The Great Wall of China – no pics of that but some lovely blossom instead

Yep. I didn’t take my DSLR camera with me the day we visited one of the wonders of the world. Not sure why. Anyway, here are a few pics of some beautiful blossom snapped near the Wall.

 

nature, inside and out

nature, inside and out

 

 

 

 

pink flowers – from Beijing to bush

pink flowers – from Beijing to bush

 

 

 

 

Li Jing longed for her home in the country

Li Jing longed for her home in the country

 

 

 

And I treated myself to a night at the Brickyard, a boutique hotel with a view of the Wall. (Promise if I ever go again, I’ll snap that Wall!)

 

selfie

selfies, sort of

 

 

 

Part 3: Onto Shanghai

So so different to Beijing.

 

from little red book to little red bag

from little red book to little red bag

 

 

 

 

it was obvious where the designer had got his inspiration from

it was obvious where the designer had got his inspiration from

 

 

 

 

bikes still rule

bikes still rule in the French Quarter

 

 

We splurged and stayed at the amazing Peace Hotel for a few nights, an art deco beauty right on the Bund.

 

Coco outside the Peace Hotel

Coco outside the Peace Hotel

 

Early Sunday morning, while Coco slept, I snuck out of the hotel and had a lot of fun near the famous waterfront, the Bund – with hardly anyone around except men on bikes with dogs and a 96 year old quietly busting some moves.

 

 

Sunday in Shanghai :: 2

Sunday in Shanghai :: 1

 

 

 

 

Sunday in Shanghai :: 2

Sunday in Shanghai :: 2

 

 

 

 

busting moves on the Bund :: 1

busting moves on the Bund :: 1

 

 

 

 

busting moves on the Bund :: 2

busting moves on the Bund :: 2

 

 

 

People line up along the Bund to take selfies against the backdrop of the skyscraper district, Pudong. I realise people take selfies all over the world, but there were so many being taken, it made me think about the selfie and how strange or funny it is to watch people taking them.

 

selfies on the Bund

selfies on the Bund

 

 

 

 

they worship different things

they worship different things

 

 

 

 

The contrast between the historic Bund and shiny new Pudong is quite something. But what won me over in Shanghai was the Old Town. The chaos, friendly people and bucket loads of strange yet somehow alluring fluro meat on sticks.

 

Old Town, Shanghai

Old Town, Shanghai

 

 

 

 

Wang Wei worked, dreaming of his dinner

Wang Wei worked, dreaming of his dinner

 

 

 

The Old Town isn’t that far from the Bund and its upmarket art deco darlings, but it’s worlds apart.

 

upstairs downstairs :: 1

upstairs downstairs :: 1

 

 

 

 

upstairs downstairs :: 2

upstairs downstairs :: 2

 

 

 

And there endeth our chop chop trip to China. Short but very sweet. Hope you enjoyed it.

 

44

Ginza

 G intro

 

With just a few days left in Tokyo (sniff) I realised I’d been so distracted by traditional Japan that I’d completely ignored the hyper-sophisticated, ultra-modern side of the city. In a panic I leapt off to the one place I thought I’d find it by the bucketload – Ginza.

Ginza? Possibly Tokyo’s most famous district? Yeah, I know, and let me tell you, after last week’s flirtation with a famous area I really wasn’t keen on exploring another one. But I had no time to faff about or do a recce anywhere else, and anyway, this was Tokyo – surely there would be more?

A few facts before we amble. Ginza was originally the site of a silver coin mint – hence the name Ginza, meaning silver mint. Became Tokyo’s most famous upmarket shopping, dining and entertainment district after the 1923 earthquake. Nothing about Ginza is cheap – apparently you can buy a coffee here for $10. Hate that.

Okay, let’s move.

 

Part 1: And then

After snapping a few off the wall buildings, I was struggling. Ginza had turned out to be just glitzy shops and nothing much else after all. I mean, impressive architecture for sure, but beyond that, hmm…

 

 

a jewel of a building - Mikimoto pearls

a jewel of a building – Mikimoto pearls

 

 

 

 

liquid - De Beers daimonds

liquid – De Beers diamonds

 

 

 

 

Japanese for beer

Japanese for beer

 

 

 

 

 

place of fancy threads

place of fancy threads

 

 

 

 

Despite my time challenges, I decided Ginza wasn’t for me.

But just as we were approaching the subway to leave, I spied a monk type figure under a large hat, chanting. A metre away from him three Japanese men were busy discussing golf scores or business deals. Women rushed past, arms full of crisp new shopping bags. Twentysomethings wandered around, texting madly. But there the monk stood, a figure from another time, nothing moving but his lips.

O-kay. Not modern, no, but kind of interesting. Subo-san from Kyoto had told us about these monks who stand frozen for hours at a time, moving only when someone approached them for a blessing. He said it looked easy but in fact was very hard.

As it would be getting dark any minute I took just a few shots and then we left. But I was curious. Would the monk be there the next day? Was this his life?

 

 

Ginza gents and a monk

Ginza gents and a monk

 

 

 

 

the blessing bowl

the blessing bowl

 

 

 

 

frozen in time

frozen in time

 

 

 

 

Part 2: Cats and hats

Curiosity piqued and with time running out before we’d have to fasten our seat belts, we went back to Ginza the next day to see if the monk was still standing still.

On the way we passed another surprise – a man placing his three cats on a small ledge, for those passing by to enjoy.

Tokyo is seriously cat crazy so within seconds, no kidding, a crowd of Japanese had gathered to snap the cats. The furry stars sat there without looking the slightest bit distressed but they were kind of snotty and sneezy and really, when you think about it, did they really need it? As Coco said, “It’s cute and dreadful at the same time”. But at least it was surprising.

 

 

Ginza cats

Ginza cats

 

 

 

 

cat and camera crazy

cat and camera crazy

 

 

 

 

We then made a beeline to the subway to see if the monk was there. Yep, still there, looking like he’d never left.

 

 

Ginza girls and the monk

Ginza girls and the monk

 

 

 

 

heads down - the texter and the monk

heads down – the texter and the monk

 

 

 

 

In the 15 minutes that we watched him, maybe three people stopped to drop a few coins in his bowl in exchange for a blessing. After Coco had one, I got a little closer to see what his face looked like under his hat.

 

 

under his hat

under his hat

 

 

 

 

He was fully focused, eyes shut, chanting softly – all this despite the fact that a political rally was underway right behind him, with loud speakers blaring a few metres from his ears and people all over the place. Including this man, who was handing out pamphlets – a Japanese Dick Tracy for sure.

 

 

Dick Tracy, moonlighting as a political campaigner

Dick Tracy, moonlighting as a political campaigner

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Hair dos

We left the monk and Dick Tracy to go and eat lunch. When we came back in the late afternoon, the monk was still there, doing his thing, but the political rally had been replaced by another sort of gathering – one of traditional Japanese hair hobbyists. They were standing not on the street but outside Wako department store, housed in something you hardly ever see in Tokyo – a building over 70 years old. The 1932 neo-Renaissance building was one of the few buildings left standing in the area after WWII.

 

 

hair hobbyists :: 1

hair hobbyists :: 1

 

 

 

 

hair hobbyists :: 2

hair hobbyists :: 2

 

 

 

 

hair hobbyists :: 3

hair hobbyists :: 3

 

 

 

 

hair hobbyists :: 4

hair hobbyists :: 4

 

 

 

 

hair hobbyists :: 5

hair hobbyists :: 5

 

 

 

 

After snapping the women I turned around to see two of them approaching the monk. He’d already taken his hat off and was apparently finally ready to leave but he smiled at one of the women as he started the blessings. “I know him”, she said, “I come here all the time”.

 

 

blessing her hair?:: 1

blessing her hair?:: 1

 

 

 

 

blessing her hair? :: 2

blessing her hair? :: 2

 

 

 

 

Once he’d finished the blessings, Coco and I went up to him. After watching him for so long it was lovely to see him smile and talk and laugh. And he spoke perfect English. Because Hideo Mochizuki, it turned out, was a monk who’d lived in the East Village in New York City for 15 years once upon a time. Back then he was a cook and a carpenter. Then he’d met a monk on his return to Japan 12 years ago and found what he was looking for. “Everyone has a seed of goodness in their hearts. When they ask for a prayer, that seed grows.”

Well, he said something like that anyway. Hideo explained that he stood for four hours at a time, three to four days a week, and that he’d done that for 450 days in his Ginza spot – once he reaches 1,000 days he’ll move on. And what does he chant about for all those thousands of hours? He’s praying for people and for world peace.

Coco and he beamed at each other for the final time and then it was time to fly…

 

 

her latest friend - Coco and Hideo

her latest friend – Coco and Hideo

 

 

 

 

and then it was time to fly :: 1

and then it was time to fly :: 1

 

 

 

 

and then it was time to fly :: 2

and then it was time to fly :: 2

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

Given more time and less panic, I may not have chosen Ginza to be part of this project. Too famous and too fancy.

And in the end, despite my desire to focus on modern Tokyo, I found myself drawn once more to the old.

But I can’t think of any other famous, fancy shopping district in any other city that I’ve been to that was more enjoyable and surprising to explore than Ginza. Admittedly I’d almost bailed but Hideo the monk had saved me. All those hours he spends saying prayers for people really do work.

 

 

 

from one sprawling, earthquake prone city to another - Tokyo back to LA - to fly on to ….

from one sprawling, earthquake prone city to another – Tokyo back to LA – to fly on to ….

 

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

That was our last week in Tokyo – we left on Sunday, to fly back to LA, to catch our next flight to… Let me surprise you in the next post okay?

I hope you enjoyed our six weeks in Tokyo as much as we have.

Many thanks to those who sent neighbourhood suggestions as well as those who gently insisted Tokyo be included in the project. And to Laura M. and Jacqueline J. for all your advice on everything from best subway routes to surviving Tokyo as a gluten-free eater (it’s not easy).

There’s so much I’ll miss about Tokyo – from their absolutely beautiful sense of design to the people themselves. I’m sure there’s a darker side to Japanese society and yes, there are a few areas that aren’t so rosy (whales, the government’s lack of transparency, earthquakes etc) but it’s probably the city I felt most at home in. By the end I was almost falling asleep on the subway too.

 —

This suburb has been brought to you by Tony Murphy

See you next week.

 

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