As we’re days from bidding farewell (or perhaps good riddance!) to 2020, I thought it might be fun this year to share a sampling of some of my favorite photos on the blog from this past year.
2020 ushered in the COVID-19 pandemic, which has turned the face mask into an everyday reality for just about everyone around the world, including us. Here Jun and I stand in a local park in Beijing, sporting our fab facewear. 😉
I had the opportunity to visit Ningxia, a tiny province located in western China, which included a visit to a sheep ranch. The rugged prairie highlands recalled memories of trips through the “big sky country” in the western US.
Befriending the sheep at the ranch proved a highlight of the trip!
For the first time, I also had the opportunity to flex my online sales “muscles” and give livestreaming a go. The experience proved a pleasure!
Jun and I experienced the early autumn charms of Beijing’s Summer Palace this year, arriving just as the osmanthus trees scattered across the grounds had perfumed the air with their beguiling fragrance.
Here’s Jun with one of those osmanthus trees. Reuniting with our favorite flora from the West Lake brought back sweet-scented memories of our days in Hangzhou.
I loved visiting his home on the high prairie, which included this decoration before the home, one typical of Mongolian households, which featured a replica of the renowned picture of eight fine steeds as well as horse-shaped metal embellishments at the top.
This month I visited Inner Mongolia for the first time, and my trip brought me to Ordos, best known for its rugged grasslands, deserts, and also the mausoleum of Genghis Khan (unfortunately, no time to see that!).
But I went there to discover another side of poverty relief supported by the internet — in the healthcare sector. And I experienced it with the help of a local Mongolian man named Yilao Baganna.
He lives in a modest ranch-style brick home on the prairie, where he keeps sheep, cows and free-range chickens, and tends a modest garden.
The prairie surrounding his home seemed as endless as the brilliant blue sky, which looked like something borrowed out of a painting. And I couldn’t even see the home of his closest neighbor! What a contrast to Beijing, where I live, with its crowded streets and apartment buildings.
During my visit, he shared with me his story of how he became impoverished, due to his medical condition. A few years ago, because of kidney failure, he received a kidney transplant. However the new kidney still didn’t function as expected after the operation, so he would need to undergo dialysis three times a week at the local hospital.
Here, he’s getting dialysis done at the local hospital.
I learned that his public healthcare coverage takes care of over 90 percent of his medical costs, making it very affordable for him to manage his condition. Plus, they’ve put all the insurance information online, so it’s easy for him to settle the costs once he has finished; he just goes up to a designated window and it gets done in a matter of minutes.
The coverage has literally saved his life. He even told me that without this support, he would not be able to go to the hospital.
Yilao Baganna showed his hospitality by treating us to a snack that reminded me of breadsticks, as well as some tea.
He showed me around his house and the grounds, and horses were a common theme, from this picture with Mongolian script…
…to this decoration before the home, one typical of Mongolian households, which featured a replica of the renowned picture of eight fine steeds as well as horse-shaped metal embellishments at the top.
On the way to his home, we stopped by a tourist resort which featured statues of Mongolian guards — perfect for a photo!
In the process, I made a few friends too, such as with this local reporter.
I also had the opportunity to spend one evening in the more metropolitan area of Ordos, close to its airport. I discovered a riverside trail that made for a pleasant walk before dinner.
The walk capped off my short but fascinating first journey to Ordos, Inner Mongolia. The more I travel around China, the more I realize just how diverse it is.
Everyone in Ordos told me the landscape looks even more spectacular in the summer, when the prairie turns green with dazzling flowers in a variety of colors, including purple. Perhaps another trip? 😉
Recently, Jun and I spent a leisurely September afternoon at Beijing’s Summer Palace.
We’ve missed the West Lake all these years living up in Beijing, and found strolling around the Summer Palace to be Beijing’s answer to our favorite destination in Hangzhou.
The Summer Palace is built around a lake (Kunming Lake) with many features recalling the West Lake — from its bridges and willow-lined causeway (modeled after the West Lake’s Su Causeway) to the pagodas and towers perched along the hills that frame the lake.
And did I mention the Summer Palace, like the West Lake in Hangzhou, also includes a number of osmanthus trees, which were just beginning to perfume the air with their heavenly scent?
One wonderful thing about the Summer Palace is that you can enjoy it at your own pace — and even take time to smell the flowers along the way — despite how many people there are.
It took us a few hours to circle the lake, and the experience left us with plenty of good memories — and the hope that we’ll return again soon!
Have you ever visited Beijing’s Summer Palace? What was your experience there?
I just returned from a weeklong trip to Ningxia to do a video shoot, where I learned more about how the province is doing poverty relief, with the help of the internet.
Prior to heading to Ningxia, the greatest impression I had of the province was through one of its most renowned agricultural products — goji berries or wolfberries (枸杞,gǒuqǐ).
And, yes, I did get a chance to get up close and personal with goji berries, even enjoying the rare opportunity to pick fresh goji berries right from the plant. (Goji berries only stay fresh for about two to three days after being harvested, so they are generally sun dried into the wrinkly red-orange berries that end up in your kitchen pantry.)
But I discovered Ningxia offers so much more, in terms of specialty agricultural products — and also in terms of how those products have helped power poverty relief by the internet.
First stop — Minning Hemei Factory, which packages and sells direct a variety of local specialty products (including goji berries) which mainly come from Ningxia. All the products are natural with no preservatives, and purchasing them helps support efforts to relieve poverty — including at the businesses that make the products as well as the factory itself.
The factory, built right beside a Hui minority community, hires only Hui people to work for it, and 99.9 percent of the workers there are women.
Hai Yan is the young woman at the factory I got to know. She’s been working there for a year. Before coming to the factory, she was a housewife. And the working opportunity there completely changed her life.
She invited me to experience the factory, which meant getting suited up to dress just like her and the rest of the workers. Love the flowered gloves!
Initially, Hai Yan (standing beside me) worked on the lines in the factory, assisting with sorting and packaging. Here I’m experiencing what it’s like to package goji berries while talking to another woman who works at the factory.
But then, when COVID-19 emerged, the factory changed strategy and decided to train these women to do livestreaming. Most of the women, like Hai Yan, haven’t received education beyond primary school. But they were eager to learn and work hard. Through this training, the factory chose the six best women in livestreaming skills and created a team they dubbed the 巧媳妇 (qiăo xífù), which means skillful wives. And these women take turns doing livestreams throughout the week, where they promote the factory’s products. This is a screenshot from the livestream I did together with Hai Yan.
Hai Yan (standing at front) gave me a quick lesson in how to do livestreaming. Before, she used to be very nervous about livestreams — and now she’s teaching me how to do it!
We did a livestream for over 30 minutes together, where we promoted a number of the products at the factory, including goji berries and black goji berries.
Through the experience, I feel like I made a new friend!
She also showed me around her charming community, with its neat rows of brick houses. Her home is just a five-minute walk from the factory, and so are the schools for her kids. It’s incredibly convenient, and that’s a big reason why so many of the young women love working there.
We also had a conversation at her home, sitting under an apple tree. In my hand I’m holding an apple picked from her tree — so crisp, sweet and just a little tart, which is exactly how I love my apples.
Hai Yan wore her favorite hat. She told me that Hui women, after marrying, should cover their head. Traditionally they would wear a kind of hijab — but nowadays they may also wear fashionable hats too.
Then we ventured out to the beautiful big sky country of Ningxia in Yanchi county, where we visited the Ningxin sheep ranch run by Feng Huan (the man in the white jacket). He raises organic mutton that also helps support poverty relief.
The ranch has a specific flock of sheep raised to support impoverished families, where the proceeds help to pay for school tuition, health care or more nutritious food. And the sheep are sold online through an app, which allows customers to see what the sheep are doing 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the cameras set up all around the ranch.
The sheep are given high-quality feed and daily exercise to maintain an optimal weight, and listen to music each day. All of this care ensures the sheep are happier, which in turn leads to better mutton.
I got the chance to meet a sheep named Princess, who is a pet sheep around the ranch. Given the darling outfit of overalls and red striped shirt, Princess clearly gets the royal treatment around the ranch. She follows the senior man, Feng’s grandfather, around the ranch like a puppy and lives a charmed life (without, of course, worry of slaughter).
I have to admit, I have a soft spot for animals and had so much fun playing with Princess.
I even made friends with a bunch of other sheep, which astonished everyone, including Feng. The sheep usually fear strangers, but they warmed up to me and soon I had an entire crowd of sheep nuzzling my hand. Feng joked that the sheep “gave me good face”.
The landscape, covered in brush and hundreds of different herbs, such as the gorgeous purple huangqi (黄芪, huángqí) or Astragalus membranaceus, brought back memories of some of my favorite trips out in the western US, cruising through the prairie lands of states such as Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana.
I couldn’t help snapping a few shots of the huangqi flowers, which looked dazzling in my favorite shade of purple.
Then we made our way to Xiamaguan village in Tongxin county, home to a factory producing a variety of grains, from oats to buckwheat and more. There I met the factory owner Wang Dejun, who quizzed me on the different grains they produce. I had to guess which name went with which product on the table. (I guessed right!)
And if you’re wondering why I’m still wearing that same purple jacket, it was really chilly that day — and even raining a bit in this very scene.
This factory employs people from impoverished households to help them improve their lives, and also assists poor families by raising crops for them and then giving them the proceeds. The grains they produce get sold directly on the internet through a variety of platforms, including my favorite of Taobao.
Wang took me out to the buckwheat fields, which were so beautiful and vast, surrounded by mountains, that I was inspired to belt out a rendition of the song the “Sound of Music”.
The fields actually sit on a high plateau nourished by the rain, and have never been developed, so they are unspoiled and produce high-quality grains.
Overall, I discovered Ningxia offers so much more than just goji berries, and is also making great efforts to help more people live better lives, thanks in part to the internet.
Earlier this year, I got my first video assignment when China Daily sent me to Hangzhou. We shot scenes by the West Lake in my favorite corner — Qu Yuan Feng He (曲院风荷) — as well as one critical shot on Su Causeway, with a view of Lou Wai Lou on Bai Causeway.
During the summer, China Daily later sent me to Suzhou and Shandong province for another video shoot. On my first day of shooting in Suzhou, we came to Canglang Pavilion, one of the city’s classical gardens which also happens to host a Kunqu Opera troupe. I spent over two hours getting a “makeover” to look like an opera performer. While I could never match the professional moves of the veteran actors, the whole experience proved unforgettable (right down to removing the makeup, which required multiple washes!).
In the afternoon, we traveled to the Humble Administrator’s Garden, the largest classical garden in Suzhou, for a shoot.
In addition, I did two live broadcasts for China Daily from the expo — one on Nov 6, and another on Nov 7. However, those are only available to watch on the China Daily app (which you will need to download for your Android or iPhone, and then search the app to find — use the search term “CIIE” to find expo-related content).
And I’ve also included a number of photos below documenting my time at the expo, including behind the camera (thanks to my colleagues!).
On my first morning at the expo, I introduced the cultural heritage on display at the Meet Shanghai booth. Behind me is a selection of folk paintings done by rural painters from Shanghai.
Also during my first morning at the expo, I continued to show more of the cultural heritage from Shanghai — here I’m introducing Shanghai-style woolen embroidery, also used to make a dazzling picture of the Shanghai Pudong skyline hanging on the wall.
High-tech was a major highlight of the expo, and it appeared in some fascinating forms — such as this device. It’s rideable, and it can also follow you around like a dog. (It even looks like one, with a cute canine design.)
On Nov 7, I completed my second live broadcast at the expo from the food and agricultural products exhibition hall. Here, I’m talking to a representative from CJ Foods, a South Korean brand promoting their foods at the event.
That’s a wrap! Here I am after finishing the second live broadcast on Nov 7 (my final assignment at the expo), along with my colleagues from work.
I’ll be back later this week with a new blog post!
Jun and I have discovered our common love for walking and hiking, and it has led to many adventures outdoors in Beijing, from tracing the canal near my office to getting lost in the woods in Olympic Forest Park. This week, I’m sharing a selection of some favorite recent photos, perhaps proving that the couple who walks together, stays together.
For most of last week, China Daily website sent me on assignment to shoot some videos around Beijing, which put the spotlight on changes in culture and education around the city. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at some of the places we visited for the shoot.
We shot a number of scenes at the National Center for Performing Arts, recognized by many for its iconic egg-shaped design.
We shot some scenes right here in this spectacular hall, and also in one of the theaters as well, during a rehearsal.
In Beijing’s Wangjing neighborhood, we visited the Yabin Dance Studio, home to the renowned dancer Yabin Wang, who has appeared at the National Center for Performing Arts on numerous occasions, including in collaboration with foreign artists.
Here I stand with Yabin (right) and one of her fellow dancers in the studio. I later learned that she has also had a career as an actor — my colleagues on the video shoot recognized her as one of the leads in the first and second seasons of Xiangcun Aiqing (乡村爱情).
On the education front, we first visited Peking Union Medical College Hospital, the first Western medical institution established in China. There I spoke with the director of a postdoctoral program, who also introduced the hospital, including this photograph on the wall taken in 1921, during the celebration of its founding.
We went to the Communication University of China, the premier institution in the country for higher education in the media and communications industry, where we had a chance to visit its mobile 4K ultrahigh definition studio (seen in the background), equipped with the same technology you would find in major media outlets. The university is one of the few in the country to have a 5G network, which facilitates the broadcast of ultrahigh definition video.
Our last day of shooting brought us to the Qianmen area just south of Tian’anmen Square, and its lively pedestrian shopping streets.
The videos for these Beijing episodes will go live around the beginning of October — and once they’re available, I’ll share them with all of you online.
Last week I returned from a 10-day trip for video shoots for China Daily, which took me to the cities of Suzhou in Jiangsu province, and Qufu, Rongcheng and Weihai in Shandong province. The videos will publish sometime in the next few months. But in the meantime, I’d like to share a few of my favorite images from the trip in this photo essay.
On my first day of shooting in Suzhou, we came to Canglang Pavilion, one of the city’s classical gardens which also happens to host a Kunqu Opera troupe. I spent over two hours getting a “makeover” to look like an opera performer. While I could never match the professional moves of the veteran actors, the whole experience proved unforgettable (right down to removing the makeup, which required multiple washes!).
We did some shooting on our second day in Suzhou at the Suzhou Culture and Arts Centre, in its spacious lobby.
That afternoon in Suzhou, we shot at a community center — which also happened to lie in the very neighborhood that Marta of Marta Lives in China calls home. What serendipity that we had the opportunity to meet each other and even spend some time together!
Here’s a shot of me introducing the community center in Suzhou while on camera.
Later that same day, I did another introduction for the camera, this time in Suzhou Industrial Park.
On our third day in Suzhou, we returned to the Suzhou Culture and Arts Centre, where I had the opportunity to meet the founders of the Suzhou Ballet Theatre.
I also got to watch the ballet company rehearse backstage — what a joy to see them practicing their graceful and athletic moves!
In the afternoon, we traveled to the Humble Administrator’s Garden, the largest classical garden in Suzhou, for a shoot.
In the evening, I joined audiences at the Suzhou Culture and Arts Centre for some evening performances from young singers.
Our fourth day in Suzhou led us to the studios of an exceptional young artist engaged in Suzhou embroidery.
In the afternoon, we took a ride on a bus where you can dine and do sightseeing at the same time in Suzhou.
My next shooting assignment sent me to Qufu in Shandong province, where we visited a theme park, providing an immersive experience in the world of Confucius, right down to clothing and even desks.
The whole theme park aimed to transport you back over 2,000 years, and it had an enormous staff dressed in the garb of the era, which made for a lot of fun photo opportunities!
We also shot at a temple built near the birthplace of Confucius.
We traveled on high-speed train the following day to Rongcheng, a city at the easternmost point of Shandong province.
In Rongcheng, the hotel breakfast area offered the most stunning views of any other on the trip, with a gleaming blue lake just outside the windows.
First stop in Rongcheng — the easternmost tip of Shandong province and its picturesque ocean views.
We visited a sustainable aquaculture center in Rongcheng, where I had the chance to ride a boat out onto the gorgeous ocean waters.
At a tuna fish processing plant in Rongcheng, I couldn’t believe the size of these frozen tuna fish!
Late in the afternoon, I had the opportunity to enjoy a barefoot walk along the beach, letting the cool ocean waters lap at my feet.
Our final day of shooting landed us in Weihai, where my heart leaped upon checking into my room and discovering this lovely ocean view from its balcony.
We finished shooting in Weihai at the beach, where we snapped this shot of the full video production team. It felt like an enchanting — and ideal — place to call it a wrap.
The following day, I caught the high-speed train home to Beijing, and traveled part of the way with the video production team. Here’s a shot of all of our luggage together — the video production required some major equipment that the guys had to lug along to every location!
Stay tuned, as I will share with you the videos once they go live online — and then you can get a closer look at all the places I visited on this trip.
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