January 30, 2014

Spring Banner

Well it’s been quite a while since the last post here.  I have been posting mostly individual images over at formosainsight.com but even that has been pretty quiet of late.  There’s been an awful lot of life happening recently! But I still aim to post a few articles here from time to time.


Calligraphy is not exactly a dying art in the Chinese world but it is becoming more of a niche activity.  Nowhere more so than in the area of “Spring Banners” (春聯) which are traditionally hung around the door lintels to greet the lunar new year.  Originally written fresh by calligraphers each year they are now mostly mass produced but you can still find a few calligraphy masters who set out their stalls near major markets in the days leading up to the festivities.  A couple of days ago I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Lin at his stand near one of Taichung’s largest traditional markets in the Shweinan area of the city.  It was fascinating to watch him at work.


Spring-Banner-4-webMr. Lin is a well known calligrapher and one of his relatives told me he has toured North and South America, apparently (if I didn’t misunderstand) at the request of the Foreign Affairs ministry, to demonstrate his art.  He is a very charming gentleman and was very happy for me to record him at work.  He told me it took him 20-30 years of practice to master the techniques as there are several different styles.  He also paints traditional Chinese paintings.  In some ways it is a pity that these skills are becoming less present at ‘street level’ but at least they are honoured enough for a fair number to still study them for their artistic, cultural and recreational value.



April 2, 2010

Cambodia, A Forest School – Empowering the next generation

Filed under: Culture,Humanitarian,Photography — lens2heart @ 2:40 pm
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The Teacher

How do you boost the recovery of a country ravaged by conflict and the catastrophic policies of its former rulers, the ‘Khmer Rouge’?  How do you promote development without dependency?  One answer is to strengthen the educational development of the people; giving them tools to solve the problems they have inherited themselves.   In Cambodia the genocide of Pol Pot’s regime has resulted in a situation where 60% of the population is aged under 21 and one-third of the population still lives under the World Bank’s defined poverty line of earning less than US$1 a day.   Educational development can help set the tone for the future but, with scant resources for even day to day survival,  it is difficult for those below or near the poverty line to fund themselves.  Creative initiatives at the grassroots level help bridge the gap between rich and poor, giving everyone an opportunity to learn and raising the overall skill base in the society as a whole.

I had an opportunity to witness this first hand during one of my assignments to  illustrate the literacy and library development programme facilitated by OMF International in the Snuol area of Eastern Cambodia earlier this year.  Snuol is a district of Kratie province near the border with Vietnam. The population is around 45,000 mostly living in small villages spread out beyond the hub of the market town of the same name.  Rubber and peppers are the main crops, flourishing well in the rich red soil of the area.  A number of villages are linked together as part of a commune and the project involves setting up fixed libraries in the high schools and commune offices, providing mobile library services and facilitating literacy development in the outlying villages.  The librarians and the teachers in the literacy programme are all local folk.  Field workers act as facilitators and advisors, a job that involves a lot of motorcycle travel on dirt roads and the dedication to develop strong relationships with the people they serve.  They share the same daily inconveniences and most of the risks of disease that local folk do – during my day and a half travelling the scooter suffered three punctures.

What follows is a photo essay of a visit to one of the literacy programmes taking place in a forest clearing..the school near Snuol…

Getting to the school requires a journey along graded but unpaved roads

Eventually, after riding along a forest path we reach the simply constructed, two room school in a clearing.

The Class


Student Involvement

Attentive minds


Starting from scratch?

Technological advance.

A watchful eye

In discussion with Swiss Field worker Daniel Zwygart

Class almost over...

The teacher's house

Daniel and the Teacher commiserate with a neighbour whose house has just burned down. The teacher's wife watches from a distance.

A simple life

What price his future?

April 1, 2010

Sense of Place – The Road to Mt. Hehuan

Filed under: Sense of Place,Taiwan — lens2heart @ 9:15 pm
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Taiwan's central mountain range is a place of great beauty

The pass at Mt. Hehuan is Taiwan’s highest that is motorable.  I walked it twice during my first few years here.  This is from a family mini-break earlier this week.  I always find the sea of clouds and ‘aerial effects’  breathtaking.  Or maybe it was the lack of oxygen at high altitude!

March 5, 2010


This post is a little late due to my current workload but we recently welcomed in the year of the Tiger.  In Chinese thought the Tiger is a relatively fierce animal who needs to be ‘handled carefully’, which is true of the actual animals themselves, of course.  Not at all like these cute tiger cubs.  My wife tells me that people born in the year of the Tiger are often excluded from certain parts of wedding ceremonies in case they ‘scratch’ the luck of the married couple.  Dragons (hidden or otherwise), on the other hand, are usually seen as good omens in traditional Chinese thought.   Anyway it doesn’t matter whether or not you have ‘a tiger in your tank’, at new year your car is not going to go vroom.  On New Years Eve everyone travels to their paternal families (i.e. husbands parents (singles just go to their parents) and then on the second day of Chinese New Year they visit the wife’s parents.  And on the third day they travel back or go on outings/vacation.  The normal volume of traffic on the freeways is 440,000 vehicles a day but on day 2 this year it was 2.6 million and on day 3 a choking 3 million.  We waited for day 4 to travel home Anyway here are a few photographs first from Chinese New Years Eve morning at a shop near my eldest brother-in-law’s house.   Later there are some from the Taichung city Lantern Festival (traditionally on the 15th night of the new year but the festival goes on for a week either side). Just click on (more…)

February 11, 2010

Sense of Place – Sun Moon Lake, Central Taiwan

Filed under: Culture,Photography,Sense of Place,Taiwan — lens2heart @ 2:57 pm
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Thao aboriginal fishing platform, Sun Moon Lake, Nantou County, Central Taiwan

Sun Moon Lake is one of Taiwan’s premier beauty spots and with new fast roads only just over an hour away from our home.  Yesterday we took Mei-ling’s sister and two of our nephews for a brief visit.  The light wasn’t very good but I did manage to get this shot which I like.  The Thao are currently Taiwan’s smallest aboriginal ethnic group with numbers in the hundreds.  They are concentrated around Sun Moon Lake.  The Lake itself derives its name from its shape – it looks roughly like a circle with a crescent attatched.

Sense of Place – Snuol, Kratie Province, Cambodia

Filed under: Culture,Photography,Sense of Place — lens2heart @ 2:42 pm

Dust and Mist, early morning near Snuol, Kratie Province, Cambodia

Christmas, illness and more travel have meant it has been a while since I posted.  Hopefully things are getting back into a more ‘normal’ pace and I’ll be able to post some more over the next few weeks.  I suspect quite a lot will be from Cambodia (my travel destination).  Though there should be some from Taiwan as well.  Snuol is a small country town about 6 hours drive away from Phnom Penh and only 18Km from the border with Vietnam.  Main produce is rubber and peppers, which do well in the rich red soil.

December 14, 2009

Visions of Laos

Filed under: Culture,Photography,Video — lens2heart @ 12:17 pm

I recently had the opportunity to pay a brief visit to Laos with a group of friends.  I was really struck by the lovely scenery and friendliness of the people.  Despite their need in almost every area of life there was a real sense of welcome in pretty well every place we found ourselves. 

I have put together a slideshow/video to give you a feel for the place.  You can watch it here or go to my vimeo page for a full HD experience by clicking here.  If you are new to watching video on the web there are some brief instructions for improving your experience here.

November 25, 2009

Worldview Window 1 – Bamboo

Peace ribbon in a bamboo grove

I’m starting another series to add to ‘Colourful Characters’ and “Sense of Place’.  Worldview Window will focus on the beliefs of people and how they affect their lives and culture.  It will usually have a brief article explaining the belief or beliefs illustrated in a photograph. 

On a recent walk we noticed this ribbon hanging from a bamboo plant.   The Chinese have an almost unlimited variety of uses for bamboo (which is actually a grass).  You can eat it, eat with it, cook with it and much, much more.  But when it is growing they often feel a sense of fear around it.  Perhaps it is the creaking noise that bamboo plants make in the wind that leads them to suspect supernatural involvement.  My wife tells me that when she was a child bodies of cats found dead in her village would be strung up on bamboo plants to allow their spirits to escape (cats are generally not liked as pets because their cries resemble babies and they are thought to be possessed by the spirits of those who dies in infancy.  Dead dogs would be thrown into streams or drainage ditches).

So the ribbon has been hung here to ward off evil.  The colour red has a signifies blessing in Chinese culture.  The inscription is “Peace in this place”.  Peace, or harmony, is a fundamental desire amongst the Taiwanese and is quite wholistic.  The ribbon has been produced by a temple to Matsu, the goddess of heaven (or ‘holy heavenly mother’), who is treated with great reverence by many Taiwanese because she is believed to have expedited the safe passage of their ancestors when they came across the straights from mainland China to settle in Taiwan.  It illustrates the complex desire to manipulate the supernatural to overcome fear and achieve peace and prosperity that undergirds many of the practices of the Chinese Traditional Folk Religion which intertwines with Buddhism and Taoism here in Taiwan.

Sense of Place 5 – Indus Valley

Filed under: Sense of Place — lens2heart @ 6:45 am
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Indus Valley, Ladakh, India

November 14, 2009

Visions of India

Filed under: Photography,Video — lens2heart @ 9:46 am
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For a slightly different experience I have posted an AV slideshow of a selection of images from my India trip.  Some have been posted before, some are new.   For those unfamiliar with web video it is usually best to let it download first before playing (to prevent starting and stopping).  To do this, first left click the “start” triangle button at bottom left.  The button will become a “pause” button and you should immediately left click on it again.  The bar to the right of this will then begin to fill up from left to right (turning from black to grey).  When this is complete left click start again and it should play well.  The four arrow button next to the vimeo logo at bottom right gives you full screen but at low quality when played from this blog site.  For a better quality full screen experience go to the original posted on my vimeo site by clicking here or by clicking on HD button on upper right after the video above starts and following instructions.

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