Myanmar might have seen a huge political shift towards democracy recently, but traditional gender roles are still a few years behind. Women still do a lot of the menial work; one scene I’ll never forget was a group of middle-aged women, dressed in traditional longyi and blouses, breaking rocks on the edge of a highway whilst the men sat in the field behind them smoking and shouting instructions.
So here’s a photographic collection of the ladies of Burma working nine to five, so to speak.
Just starting to emerge as a destination on the South East Asia backpacker trail, but still largely unspoilt, Myanmar is one of the most colourful, intriguing and intoxicating countries I’ve ever visited.
It’s only really been accessible to mainstream tourists for the past three or four years, before which it was the subject of a repressive military regime and a number of subsequent popular uprisings, the most widely publicized of which -in 1988 – resulted in the deaths of hundreds of citizens. All that is changing though: in March 2016, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy took their seats in government and now the country is looking to embrace a new, brighter future. The atmosphere in Myanmar is uplifting – the gentle Burmese temperament is infused with a joyful optimism and visitors are greeted with a warm, welcoming smile (albeit the cracked, red and black smile that comes from chewing too much betel nut).
Before the photographs, let’s get the technicalities out of the way: is it Myanmar or Burma? Well, both really. Both names have the same meaning, “Burma” is a local derivative of “Myanmar” and is the name by which the country was generally known until the military rulers changed it in 1989. These days, the United Kingdom still refers to it as Burma whereas the UN recognises the name Myanmar. However, I only heard the locals calling it Myanmar – the local beer even carries the brand name “Myanmar” which is good enough for me.
Myanmar is, in many ways, the closest you can come to time travel. Setting foot in places like Bagan or Inle Lake is like stepping into a bygone age…the locals are largely uninfluenced by the Western habits exported to so many Asian countries, most of them still wear the traditional colourful longyi and smear their face with thanaka paste to counter the heat. Transport is chaotic and noisy and sometimes involves an ox, Buddhism prevails, and eating is a communal affair. One of the most common pastimes of the backpacking community is the In Five Years Time game: “In 5 years time I bet it will have changed.” It’s hard to see how it won’t, after all this emerging democracy needs to boost its economy somehow and tourism is there for the taking. However, it’s sad to imagine tour buses parked up all over Bagan, resorts and golf courses around Yangon and the inevitable party boat cruise on Inle Lake. I can only feel equal measures of pleasure and gratitude that I had the privilege of exploring this wonderful destination before it joins Thailand as the archetypal holidaymakers’ paradise.
Take a snowy train journey from Beijing across 1,200 kilometres of frozen northern China and you’ll eventually arrive in Harbin, capital of China’s northernmost province Heilongjiang. Its location is somewhat bleak, flanked as it is by Inner Mongolia, Siberia and, erm, North Korea and its climate is one of the harshest in Asia with winter tempertaures dropping to -30ºc and beyond.
So why would anyone make the journey up here? Well, apart from the attractive Russian architecture and laid-back European vibe, every winter Harbin plays host to an incredible ice sculpture festival. Now in its seventeenth year, the festival has grown to become the biggest of its kind in the world, surpassing similar events in Norway and Canada. Each year takes a different theme – in 2016 it was The Silk Road – and sculptors from around the world travel to Harbin to exhibit their work, the result being a spectacular, beautiful city crafted entirely from ice.
I’ve done a fair bit of travelling, tramping through time zones and crossing cultures and continents, and I think it’s safe to say that in all those journeys I’ve never encountered a city so utterly devoid of appeal as Beijing. Dour, drab and overcrowded, the Chinese capital seems – like Brasilia or Rabat – to serve mainly as the political and administrative centre of the country whilst leaving all the sparkle and shine to the likes of Shanghai. Even its name conjures up images of smog and communism (unlike its predecessor Peking which conjured images of brightly coloured ducks). Sadly, whenever I did see something interesting or pretty – the traditional old hutong (alleyways) or Tianenmen Square – it was invariably so jam-packed with pushing, jostling tourists that I was unable to appreciate it properly. This made it rather difficult for me to photograph: my main aim as a photographer is to capture the little moments of everyday magic happening all around me and my best shots are taken in places that charm and inspire me, and Beijing failed on both counts. Nevertheless I did my very best to capture the essence of the place, such as it is; I visited the tourist attractions as detailed by the usual travel guides, went off the beaten track a bit in search of flea markets and street art…but I was unable to enter the Forbidden City as, apparently, all the tickets had sold out by midday: a fact you might want to bear in mind if you’re planning a trip there.
Despite it’s many shortcomings, however, Beijing does have one glorious, shining, 6000-mile-long jewel in its tarnished crown: the Great Wall of China – which made the trip well worth it. Apart from that, here’s a motley selection of photos from a city which I am thoroughly looking forward to never visiting again!
Asia is synonymous with street food and Xi’an is no exception. In fact, this city in the north east of China is somewhat famous for its food vendors whose stalls and carts can be found on almost every street corner and spare patch of pavement.
Each province in China boasts its own local flavour; Xi’an’s is typically spicy and features meat skewers, noodles, peppers and pomegranate – the latter of which was introduced to the city via the Silk Road.
One of the best places to sample the food is Beiyuanmen “snack street”, located in the Muslim quarter and seemingly dedicated to street food.
The taste is not the only thing you can enjoy here, though; equally as enjoyable is watching the chefs prepare the food, from traditional wok cooking to the highly entertaining process of making hard candy.
I do a lot of street photography so I’m constantly looking for “now” moments to record. (In fact I’m probably guilty of being too caught up in the moment and not planning ahead…I only decided to move to China 6 weeks before I boarded the plane). For me, photography is all about capturing fleeting moments in time, expressions on faces, moods, emotions and interactions. So here are 5 “now” photos taken in the last 24 hours in Xi’an, north east China.