Arles Photography Open Salon 2012


A selection of work from my series “Beijing Walks of Life” has been selected for the Arles Photography Open Salon 2012. The exhibition will be held at Galerie Huit and runs alongside the Les Rencontres d’Arles festival from July 2nd to September 23rd. Early 2013 the exhibition will move to the South East Asia Photography Open Salon, organized by the Alliance Francaise at the China House in Penang, Malaysia.



Nanjing, A Former Farmer at the Gym



We meet a 60-year-old former farmer at the Wutaishan Gymasium. He comes here every afternoon. Unlike many other visitors who gather in small groups to play cards, Chinese chess or Ping-pong, he prefers to be alone. He spends 1-2 hours on average per day doing exercises with the free-to-use equipment at the gym. When he gets tired, he rests on a bench in the shade of the surrounding old trees and starts massaging his legs and feet for a while.


After the death of his wife, ten years ago, he left his farm and moved to Nanjing to work as a parking attendant. His children are living in Yanzhou, a city near Nanjing; the oldest is a doctor, the second a tollgate cashier and the youngest a teacher. They belong to the middle class of the society and earn decent incomes that would be sufficient to support their father. However, he refuses to live with any of them: “I chose to live alone, not because they are not willing to support me, but because I do not want to disturb their lives”. The gap between him and the younger generation, as he explains, could cause family problems when living together. He then gives us many examples of differences between him and his children, such as different views on the daily diet, raising children, or even sleeping habits. He sees no reason to bother himself with all these trivial problems at his age.


Although he has lived in the city for ten years, he still adores people’s lifestyle in the countryside. He claims that a countryman will never suffer from high pressure, diabetes, or other so-called “rich-man diseases”. According to him, the countrymen work and sweat every day at the land much more than people here at the gym. They breath air that is fresher than the urban air and drink water that is clearer than the urban water. Also, unlike people living in the city who take too much sugar and animal fat, they eat fruits, leafy vegetables and coarse grains. He points to an Alzheimer patient sitting on a bench a few meters away: “Such a terrible disease would never find a countryman.”


Despite the fact that he loved the country life so much, he moved to the city because he had no company anymore after his wife’s death. In the city, he has a job to kill time, several friends to chat with and a pleasant corner in the gym to work out every day; while in the country he had nothing but a small piece of farmland.


He slows his voice suddenly with a rueful smile in his face. “The only pity in my life is that she left too early. Since her death in 2002, I am not afraid of dying anymore.”


We talk about the happy days in his life. “Youth was my happiest time”, he answers without hesitation, “when I was young, I could do whatever I wanted to do, without asking anyone’s permission. However, now I can no longer take any adventures and almost have forgotten the feeling of being young and free.”





Beijing, Jiu Xianqiao Block No.6 Central Heating


The No.6 block at Jiu Xianqiao was one of the dormitories for the 798 and other factories we wrote about in previous posts.


We walk around at a plant for the central heating of the block that was built in co-operation with the Soviet Union in the 1950s.


Every block in this neighborhood used to have its own plant with huge boilers to provide central heating. Now, 60 years later, most of them have been demolished and just a few are still in operation.


According to a worker at this plant, which belongs to a state-owned enterprise, the boilers are still in use. “It will be demolished soon”, he says.




Beijing, Mrs. Li


Mrs. Li is from Hebei. She has been a rickshaw driver in Beijing’s Jiang Tai area for 10 years.  With her three-wheeler she makes a business as a private taxi. The government has announced this business illegal many years ago, but you can find these taxis anywhere in Beijing outside the 3rd ring road. There are no standard charges, but usually the fare is much cheaper than a normal taxi.


We meet Mrs. Li around 4 pm. She has made 90 RMB so far today. Sometimes, she says, she makes less that 100 RMB a day.


Ever since the rickshaws have been banned, the police is hunting for illegal taxis. Mrs. Li tells that the police in the area know her well as she has been caught many times.


Every time she was caught, the “urban-management” police confiscated her motor. According to Mrs. Li, the motor costs her 10,000 RMB. Thus, she has to beg them to give her motor back. Since Mrs. Li’s husband is disabled, the police would always return her motor after giving her a fine of 1,000 RMB.


Mrs. Li tells that she gets along very well with her husband, who has been disabled ever since an injection damaged his nerves when he was a kid. Having to take care of two children, one is five and the other is eight, Mrs. Li is not able to take a regular full-time job.


Commenting on her cat-and-mouse game with her illegal taxi and the police, she says: “I have no choice, I just need to earn as much money as I can.”