Western China 2012
It was early summer and another bus ride on our three-month journey around Western China. My companion Wang Qian and I had no pre-planned route. Our only goal was to connect with people and places by relying on a process that was collaborative and intuitive in spirit. Guided by the currents of daily life, we found ourselves absorbed within intimate moments that shaped our experience and understanding of China’s evolving narrative.
After many hours driving through mountains, the bus finally rattled and swerved into a hot desert valley. We were dropped onto a dusty main street where Hui Muslim men and a few Tibetan women candidly observed us from dark storefronts. Across the street two men called us out, curiously expressing surprise at our decision to end up in a place that none of us could find on our worn Qinghai map.
We shared with them where our journey had taken us so far. How the taste of Muslim-made bread in a Xining restaurant lead us to a night watching a band of traveling circus performers in a Salar town. Or how during our search for a remote Tibetan monastery, we found ourselves in the backstreet of a sparsely developed village, falling asleep to the hum of construction work and looped ceremonial chants. And unable to catch a bus as the sun set along the Qinghai-Tibetan highlands, we hitchhiked on a bed of pine tree limbs en-route for their transformation into incense in the valley below.
The two men followed our stories by teaching us secret handshakes of the local wool trade and leading us to a former prison turned farmer’s home. Characters scrawled in chalk across a cell block wall read, Zhong Guo Ren Min, Mao Zhu Xi Wang Sui – Chinese People, Long Live Chairman Mao.
We continued to travel the west in this way, drawing on one experience to lead us to the next and observing a mixed sense of contemplation and restlessness. These same feelings traced people’s lives as they navigate regional transformation while trying to retain age-old traditions and practices.
A few weeks later we walked along the Yangtze River as it faded into the horizon’s heavy mist. A father gently guided his son through the river’s current; laughing together, the father let his child swim alone for the first time. It was within subtle moments of human interaction like this where we set ourselves adrift to truly experience Western China today.
A Qin Ju opera performer prepares her makeup in the back room of a local teahouse, Xining, Qinghai
Early morning in the village of Duo Fu Dun, Qinghai
Friends practice morning dance exercises to techo and classical music, Guyuan City, Ningxia
Friends play together after a Tibetan ceremonial gathering, Qinghai
Mother and daughter collect goat’s milk, Ningxia
A souvenir hawker's chair, Qinghai Lake
A farmer rests after harvesting hay, Xiji, Ningxia
A parking lot storage area for replica antiques, Xining
Families gather for Kids Day, Xunhua Salar Autonomous County, Qinghai
Family photographs displayed in Li Gui Mei's home, Xiji, Ningxia
Cuo He Ji Bu and his grand daughter, Qinghai
A bowl of nuts, Chongqing
Dusk along the Yangtze, Wanzhou, Chongqing
Traveling performers finish up a late night show, Xunhua Salar Autonomous County, Qinghai
Sweeping dust away, Qinghai Lake
Zhu Bao Ning, tells stories about growing up in what was once a prison town, Wa Yu, Qinghai
Animal Feed, Wa Yu, Qinghai
Street scene in the village of Wa Yu, Qinghai
Li Cheng, takes off on his motor bike after working on a long haul bus from Xining, Wa Yu, Qinghai
Two friends hangout on the river wall embankment, Fengdu, Chongqing
Sisters, Qinghai, China
A fossil on display in a hotel lobby, Qinghai
A swimmer walks along the Yangtze River, Fengdu, Chongqing
Waiting out the rain, Fengdu, Chongqing
Abandoned ships grounded by flooding along the Yangtze River, Chongqing
A girl stands alone by the waterfront after arguing with her boyfriend in a rainstorm, Gao Jia Zhen, Chongqing
Horse race, Qinghai
A Tibetan boy plays by his family’s property fence, Duo Fu Dun, Qinghai
Children on their way home from school, Duo Fu Dun, Qinghai
A father teaches his son how to swim in the Yangtze River, Chongqing