the hlf and friends great china photographic expedition of 2004

12-30 april, 2004


the great houston leica fellowship china expedition of 2004 is now history.  a one word summary �.. wow!!

for planning, our mantra was �. good photography; good food.  in implementation, it was � good photography; good food; wonderful companions.

the trip was enriched beyond any pre-visualization by our chinese-american colleagues.  their knowledge of chinese history, from the dynasties to the here and now, added immeasurably to the richness of our experience.  their own and their families� personal experiences helped us appreciate even more the progress that china has made in the last several decades.

the larger part of our group arrived in shanghai from the airport at night.  if you want a visual experience, see shanghai for the first time at night.  the only city where the visual impact is perhaps as great is new york city.  new york city is size; shanghai is style. 

the peace hotel has the pyramid topin shanghai, we stayed on the bund in the peace hotel, known at the first of the 20th century as the cathay hotel.  our get acquainted dinner was held in the same rooms where the receptions for presidents bush-41, clinton, and bush-43 were held.  the young lady overseeing us also served these three presidents.  the view of the bund and the pudong area from the reception area�s balcony was absolutely breathtaking. 

we could easily have spent a day just photographing the pyramid-topped peace hotel with its art deco d�cor and vaulted ceilings.

a special treat was seeing our leader, dazhen wu, playing his clarinet with the jazz band in the peace hotel's bar.  the performance climaxed with several highly applauded solos.

using shanghai as a hub, we traveled by bus to zhouzhuang, suzhou, and tongli and overnighted in zhouzhuang and suzhou.

zhouzhuang is an ancient city built around canals.  we were, thanks to dazhen�s friendship with the former mayor, able to stay in a 500 year old landowner�s mansion recently been converted to �en suite� so as to accommodate overnight guests. you still sleep in the historic beds complete with wooden slats and enjoy a traditional chinese breakfast in the family dining area.  we had the whole mansion to ourselves!

another great advantage of being in the mansion was that we were able to be with the villagers in the late afternoon and early morning as they lived their normal lives.  conventional tourists must stay some distance from the village and access is controlled.  we had to have our luggage ported in by rickshaw and arm power. 

zhouzhuang was even more than we had hoped it would be.  we burned lots of film (and digits)!

suzhou is a city of gardens and silks and we availed ourselves of both.  tonight, many expeditioneers are sleeping under silk comforters!  equally enjoyable, though, was photographing in the �humble administrator�s garden�.  our local guide did a wonderful job of explaining the classic elements of chinese gardens as well as the tradition of surprises integral to this particular garden.

tongli is another �water town� and a world heritage site.  waterways.  bridges.  gardens.  superb food featuring numerous freshwater fish.  to top it off, the director of the area encompassing tongli joined us for lunch and then acted as our guide as we walked about tongli.  he also saw to it that we took the traditional walk around tongli�s �three bridges� for good luck.  (it sure seems to have worked!)  a special treat was photographing amongst elementary school aged youngsters drawing scenes from the tuisi yuan gardens.

after overnighting again in suzhou, we were off to guilin through shanghai�s �in-country� airport, hongqiao.

the only way to travel in guilin/yangshuo... your own two seater motorcycle sidecar!   ....unless, of course, you choose to charter a boat!

when one thinks of the li river and the beautiful karst mountains, one thinks of guilin.  but to do things right you need to spend time in guilin, yangshou, and in the xingping area.  we did.

photographic opportunities abound.  the river and mountains; the rice farming; the markets; the cities themselves.  we met with guilin�s photographer�s society hosted by their president and published photographer li huixian.  his book, �guilin scenery� is one by which other guilin area images are measured.

there is more.  a major treat in guilin was attending a major theatrical performance produced by china�s premier movie director, zhang yimou.  the performance was on the li river with the karst mountains as a backdrop and with the audience sitting in an open air amphitheatre.  think of the most extravagant las vegas production you�ve ever seen, throw in the bellagio fountains, and you might come close to this show.  our in-china travel agent was not able to get our group tickets.  however, one of our chinese-american colleagues contacted a cousin and magically 19 tickets showed up.  (thanks jenny!!)

and more!  up at 3:50 a.m., we were off to longji, a village high in the hills where rice has been continuously cultivated on the terraced hillsides for some 700 years.

we enjoyed two special foods in longji; smoked meats and rice cooked in bamboo stalks.

in longji, we were also able to photograph an ethnic grouping with their historic costumes and tradition of long and luxuriant hair.

another special treat in guilin was a visit to the reed flute cave.  the cave is as impressive as carlsbad caverns.  although not as extensive, it is first class all the way. 

our last �special� in guilin was a visit to the chinese government�s experimental station for tea bushes.  it was a great opportunity to learn about teas and how the leaves are prepared.   the highlight for some of us was an explanation of the chinese traditions for preparing and serving tea.

xi�an.  a special treat for us in xi�an was not only seeing the terracotta soldiers but meeting yang pei yan, the farmer that discovered the soldiers while digging a water well.  (he started receiving the recognition he deserved when france�s jacque chirac asked to meet him and get his autograph.)  again, thanks to jenny, the farmer, yang pei yan, agreed to leave his book autographing and come outside to be photographed with us.  regrettably, he lost patience with us before we could get ourselves lined up as we were so involved in getting our own photos of him! 

xi�an, site of the qin dynasty - the first of the chinese dynasties and the originating point of the old silk route, is steeped in history and is much more than the terracotta soldiers.   the history is well documented in the museums with artifacts spanning thousands of years.  if our group had one regret, it was that we did not allow more time for xi�an.

we took a history lesson in perhaps the most pleasing form ever � a musical presentation on the tang dynasty at cultural entertainment theatre.

we also had the good fortune to meet with the professional photographers� association led by zhi yong and view their large format work taken in xi�an and shaanxi province.  we were honored to be joined by the director of the government office for shaanxi province, fen rui zhang.

dumplings -- a xi'an specialty!

on to beijing!!

a large number of attractions of beijing are familiar by name to almost all of us.  the great wall.  the forbidden city tiananmen square.  the summer palace. the ming tombs.  the temple of heaven.  to this, we added the historic hutong section (the �old� beijing), the peking opera and china�s largest photography store (actually, a marketplace of many, many small stores).

in beijing, we met with the china association of photographers and numerous published photographers with whom we shared our photographs and experiences.  it was delightful.

it is clear that photography is a vibrant vocation and avocation in china.



pedi-cab with fringe... hutong section


food.  unless you experienced it, you can�t imagine what wonderful food we had.

photography.  although nominally a leica photo expedition, we had a most impressive array of photo equipment other than leica, ranging from nikons including the d1x, to canons, to the fuji wide formats.  people knew how to use their kit, so there was a lot to be learned by all.

we also learned how professional photographers get that special shot!  when the staff at the peace hotel became exasperated at us being on a balcony not intended for guests, we knew we had pushed the edge of the envelope when they started yelling �call security�.  (thanks fred for the great experience �.. and thankfully  we didn�t get arrested or barred from the hotel!  thanks jenny for the quick translation work!!!)

one final tribute to dazhen.  when dazhen learned that one of our group had to return after one night in beijing, dazhen said �. you can�t come to beijing without seeing the forbidden city or the great wall.  dazhen then arranged a car and guide and personal visits to each location working within the time available and vastly enriched one of our colleague�s china experience.  (she also got the only great sunlit shots of the wall!)

can �lightning strike twice�???  we are going to find out in october, 2006.


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images copyright 2004 david dodd and marcy garriott


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