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With China on my arm…

“Stay this moment.”

–Sam Abel

National Geographic photographer


An unfortunate nighttime encounter with a bathroom doorjamb has rendered me with a sizeable purplish bruise on the left inner forearm.

Upon reflection, it strikes me that the mark is rather a badge — for the shape of it so resembles a map of China that I have come to regard my little wound as a souvenir.

Which in time will heal. And fade. A temporary tattoo.

May memories of this time and place fade not so quickly as the China on my arm


She’s not heavy

A Chinese grandparent’s job: The first time I went to China 9 years ago, I was stunned by the number of old folks out and about in the public squares with infants and toddlers. And then my hosts explained, it’s a Chinese grandparents’ role to care for the young while the parents work— and from observation over the years, it appears to be a welcome task.

Helen Keller’s Legacy?

Not sure what the heirs of Helen Keller would say about the appropriation of their famous family member for this brand of Chinese eyewear.

Big city skyline

With the main highway making a bee-line for the tower-studded Chongqing skyline, a photographer lines up his shot of parasol-carrying campus girls at graduation time at Southwest University of Political Science and Law.

An all-too common sight

Texting while driving — a common sight in China — even the case of scooter drivers, like this Chongqing daredevil.

Rites of Passage        

Graduation rituals remind the foreign traveler of the common bonds that bind us all: the Rites of Passage of youth, celebrated the same worldwide, as Southwest University of Politial Science and Law grads check out a selfie


The flower lady

The once large contingent of menial laborers carrying heavy loads balanced on bamboo poles (known as the Bangbang Army) has now largely disappeared in CQ. But the occasional heavy lifter can still be spotted, like this flower vendor, toting her load to market.

Street food

Some of the best food to be found in China is outside the formal restaurants where the street food is to die for. Word to the wise: eat it right there, hot off the gas-fired stove.

Another international language

Even though I can’t speak the language, I always manage to communicate with the locals on some level. Since photography is an international language, a photo almost always works. At the local square, the retires join me in a silly selfie. And the next day when the spy me returning to the square, they call out the one word in English the know, “Hallooooo!” At least I can say “Nihao!” in response.

A cellist’s dilemma

The hotel at which I’m staying has this faux Baroque theme with 18th Century art all over the walls as if you’re Europe, as opposed to deep in the heart of China. But as a beginning cellist, I was bothered by the ersatz tapestry in the main lobby; I knew there was something fundamentally wrong about the depiction musical quintet. And then it finally struck me — there’s no way the cellist is reading his score off the same piece of sheet music as the violinist. I even e-mailed my cello teacher back in Chapel Hill to confirm my suspicion. Chalk one up to artistic license.


The pink dog

You know about pink dogwood, but how about a pink dog? I can’t explain the origin of this painted pooch I encountered on the streets of Chongqing — nor his blue tail.


Staying white

There’s a real color bias among Chinese women students. On sunny days girls hoist umbrellas in order to “stay white,” they tell me, explaining that dark shin in China is a sign of poor, working class country people.


At day’s end

At the end of a school day, two college students scale the side steps of the campus amphitheater at Southwest University of Political Science and Law, a favorite spot for couple to linger or grads to get their photos made.



Sunset over China

Sunset out my hotel window at Southwest University of Political Science and Law: the last glow of day slips behind twin apartment towers up the hill from the campus “Like a red rubber ball.” (Classical Rock ‘n’ Roll cultural reference.)



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