Dave's Sketch Journal

Drawing is taking a line for a walk. - Paul Klee

Travel Photography

Wine tasting - ChinaWhen taking pictures while traveling, I always try to be as unobtrusive as possible. Often I'll shoot from the hip. I shut off all camera beeping sounds and use the "quiet" mode on my D300s. I'll soot several frames. Sometimes I'm successful and one or two come out good, other times not so successful. But generally I get the shot.

The iPhone is also perfect for unobtrusive shooting. I can look like I'm texting someone or playing some game. But meanwhile I'm setting up for the shot.

Yesterday we went shopping in a high-class area. The seven story mall is right next to a new Starbucks. Very ritzy. The floors are polished marble, walls are mirrors, glass and brass. Only the Chinese with new money come here. They speak some English and most are well educated.

We took the escalator to the top floor and worked our way down. We were the only ones on the floor. We chatted with some here and there, checked the outrageous prices (four times what I would pay elsewhere), and sauntered to the next place.

Mr Teppanyaki signI'm always on the lookout for good photo opts even when I'm shopping. I especially like to collect signage. So in several spots I took some pictures as reference for later sketches.

But at one place, hanging outside in the main walking area, I found an especially interesting sign. I held the iPhone up to it to snap a pic when some self-important guy came over and told me I can't take pictures. "Why?" I asked. He didn't give an answer but stood his ground. He rudely stepped in front of my iPhone.

I put the camera down and thought: "Will these people ever get the 'customer-first' concept? If he had engaged me by asking friendly questions like, where we were from, why we are studying Chinese, why I liked the sign, etc. I would have gone into his store, might have even bought some outrageously expensive thing. Next time I would have brought my friends. Instead I'm repulsed. I'll be sure to tell all my foreign friends how rude this store owner is. He doesn't realize the repercussions of a sillly rule about taking a photo. He needs foreigners to come and buy this stuff. They (and a few wealthy Chinese) are the only ones that can afford it. Doesn't he get this?

Mr TeppanyakiBut I had already taken the picture. Yet I complied and turned away to leave. I said to myself: "Hey buddy, it's a free country. I can take any public picture I want." But then I caught myself. Wait a minute. This is NOT a free country. What am I thinking? He could have had me arrested. I need to be more careful. The Chinese don't mess around when you blatantly step over the line. They'll take you out.

The other day a friend of mine went through a traffic light on his moped with his wife on the back. There is a rule here that you can't go through certain intersections with two people on a moped. It's sort of ridiculous. You can ride anywhere you want (even against traffic) but when you get to some intersections, your partner has to get off, walk across the road and rejoin you on the other side. Many ignore this crazy rule. My friend tried to. But this time the traffic cop called ahead to the next light. When he got there an officer stepped out, clapped a huge chain around his tire and forced them off the bike. They impounded it. It took him days to get his bike back and then only after paying a fine about half the cost of the bike.

I began thinking about this as I walked away from the nasty store owner. Yeah, caution is in order here. It could have gone badly for me. I could have been shot for taking an unauthorized photo of a sign.

I never imagined I could be so close to death at a shopping mall.

I am always doing things I can’t do. That is how I get to do them. -Pablo Picasso


Homemade yogurt

homemade yogurt with mango
We've been enjoying homemade yogurt daily.

We buy mango from the street vendor and put it in the fridge overnight. Meanwhile we place the kefir in milk and within 24 hours we are ready to mix the two.

Wow! It's like eating ice cream, only healthier. The good news is, if you have problems with your digestion or are lactose intolerant, you'll have no problems with homemade yogurt. Staying healthy is our number one concern here in China. Eating as often as we can at home is our secret. We know what's in the stuff.

Easy steps to make your own

The way to start making your own yogurt is to simply get some kefir from a friend. Place it in a medium jar and pour in fresh milk, preferably non-homogenized. Cover the jar with a paper towel and set it aside. (We put ours on top of the frige.) Twenty four hours later it's ready.

Pour the yogurt through a large sieve (we use a large soup ladle) to catch the kefir. Set it aside and reuse. The kefir will grow surprisingly fast. We stared with a dime-sized amount and now it's about the size of a half-dollar.

What else have we made?

We've made our own pickles and hot sauce. The hot sauce is wonderful. And both are super easy to do, especially the pickles.

The problem here is that buying these things at the local store is not possible. We have to travel to the foreigner's store to get some of these things. So making our own stuff is not only cheaper but a time saver.

Life is the art of drawing without an eraser. -Albert Einstein


Sunsetting the Old

BuildingDownOne of the joys of travel is communicating with the local people.

Of course, it's easy to find foreigners in China. We really stand out. They frequent western style eating places and bars. But if I hang out with the foreigners only, why leave home?

Truth is, we've met many helpful foreigners. They know just how hard it is moving to a foreign country and setting up house. They know what it's like try to get what you want without the proper language skills. 

moped sunsetI laugh and sometimes refer to my attempts at communicating in Chinese as "linguistic gymnastics" because when they confirm to me what they think I said, their words are simpler, shorter, and clearer. Rats, I hate that.  But I do learn.

Really, the only way to understand another's culture is to simply spend time with them. I went out to lunch with a local guy who was himself a foreigner in another country for five years. He had some interesting observations. What was clear to me, after some discussion, was that he was more open minded than usual. He was not set in the traditional ways of his parents. In fact, he was attempting to help them change their thinking. He was very interested in my perspective on life. It was a great interchange.

Even though China is undergoing great material changes in their infrastructure, I think there are bigger changes happening. Changes in perspective, changes in outlook, especially their view toward other countries and their way of doing things.

Could this be the sunset before a new day begins? Maybe, just maybe.

If you think you are too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.

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