The Psychedelic Silver Cave in Guilin, China

The Silver Caves near the city of Yangshuo are typical of the karst that dominates this area of China. Karst refers to a type of landscape are made by soluble rocks like limestone being slowly washed away, leaving behind caves, sinkholes, sunken streams and springs.

But this is China, and the natural beauty of the caves cannot be left unenhanced. Some genius decided to light up the cave with a plethora of bright, neon colours. Frankly I’m not sure if it was that bad of an idea. It would have gotten pretty boring to have gone through the whole cave if it were bathed in the same color of light the entire two kilometers of its length.

The lights helped to appreciate the depth and textures of the cavern walls, but scale — that was sometimes difficult to understand in person, and even more difficult to capture with a camera. The area of Guilin, where this cave is located, is a popular tourist spot for both domestic and international travelers. So if your hands are already getting clammy at the thought of spending a couple hours in this dark, claustrophobia-inducing cave, then perhaps you shouldn’t go, as you will spend the entire time navigating a human traffic jam with several bottlenecks along the way. 

Some of the stalactite/stalagmite formations were named for allegedly bearing similarities to objects, people, or scenes. This one was called “Buddha teaching scripture”. I stood in front of it for a long time and could not find him.

Hah! Deep in a natural cave I am free from the shopping malls ubiquitous in China!, you might be tempted to think. Wrong!

Photos taken on April 9 2014.

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#Tiananmen25 – The June 4th Anniversary Vigil in Victoria Park

Last night, tens of thousands of people gathered in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park to remember the civilians who were brutally murdered in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, 25 years ago. The air was somber, but a strong note of anger and frustration ran throughout the proceedings. Together, peacefully, an estimated 180,000 people (or 99,500, according to the police) lit candles, sang songs and chanted slogans demanding justice, while sitting on the ground side by side.

The signs that flank the community leaders on stage say “‘Fight to the end” and “Redress 6/4”. 

People raised their candles in memory of the victims.

People entering the park were greeted by pro-democracy activists seeking donations to support their efforts.

Activists held replicas of the Goddess of Democracy, a 10-meter-tall statue built by arts students to bolster morale when the Tiananmen protests seemed to falter. 

The mood was not always dark; some found joy in the show of solidarity.

A man with a small child holding a poster attracted the journalists’ attention. 

People of all ages and occupations showed up. 

A young girl sits in between her parents. 

A woman reads one of the many pamphlets handed out that night. 

A young boy lights his candle. 

Many in the crowd were too young to remember the Tiananmen massacre as anything more than a historical event. Others however, remembered all too well.

A friend recounts her memories of hearing about the event as a young student in Hong Kong: “Thousands of people protested in Po Leung Kok garden. In class, our teachers showed us video footage and newspaper clippings. We all cried. I was only 9 or 10 years old.”

A monument was erected in the center of the park. A replica of the Goddess of Democracy watched over the vigil. Lyrics were provided to those unfamiliar to the songs sung in unison by the crowds.

A couple of protesters waved the flag of colonial Hong Kong. 

Crowds streamed onto the MTR and onto buses to get home after the vigil ended at around 10pm. 

Never forget.

Shui Tau Tsuen – 水頭村 – “Water Head Village”

In Yuen Long there is the village of Shui Tau Tsuen, where there are old 19th century buildings. This is where my companions and I set out to visit. Our taxi driver was quite apprehensive when we first told him our intended destination.

“Are you visiting someone?”

No…

“Oh. Are you going to that country club there?”

There’s a country club there? No, we’re not. We’re visiting historic monuments!

“….Okay…”

His skepticism was proved to be unfounded when we excitedly and triumphantly pointed at the aged traditional structure in front of us. He shrugged, and let us off, not before he made sure we hopeless tourists/cityfolk  knew which bus to catch back to the nearest MTR station (which was not, as he pointed out, the one where we had gotten into his taxi).

Behold, the Yi Tai Study Hall built by the Tang Clan, which settled in the lands of Kam Tin perhaps as far back as the 11th century. The details of its origins are a bit muddy–it was built around 1840–but all agree that it was built as a place of quiet, peaceful scholarly contemplation. It was officially declared a Hong Kong monument in 1992 and was restored and opened to the public in 1994.

The entrance to the study hall.

The fact that this study hall is a declared monument and almost 200 years old doesn’t stop its next-door neighbor from cozying up to it. 

An overgrown abandoned plot nearby. 

Kids were playing basketball on a court right up against the historic buildings. 

The old and new coexist comfortably here…

Like this sadly dilapidated and crumbling structure, side by side with a shiny new home.

The village is set in a luxuriously verdant plain at the foot of hills that seem more fitting of Scotland than Hong Kong. 

The odd architecture and neglected exterior of this small apartment block seemed more incongruous than the historic buildings. While the latter remain dignified and proudly preserved, these appeared to simply be left behind by the passing of time. 

The local residents are of diverse nationalities. 

An offshoot of the Kam Tin river runs alongside the village. 

Probably under-visited, this tranquil town deserves a trip especially since there are some other places of interest nearby, like the Kam Tin Walled Village (吉慶圍). That’s for the next blog post…


To get there, take the Purple Tuen Mun MTR line to Kam Sheung Rd Station, then walk for 25 mins or take a 5-minute taxi ride.

Shui Hau – 水口 – “Water Mouth”

In the middle of March, I ventured to Shui Hau, a mudflat in a bay on the south side of Lantau Island. Its name means “water opening”, or if translated more literally, “water mouth”. I was with colleagues from the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation to pilot an educational program where schoolchildren would be brought to help conduct a horseshoe crab survey. Such mudflats are perfect nursery grounds for young horseshoe crabs. Some strange meteorological or chemical phenomenon was happening as the conditions were just right for a dense fog to materialize, covering the entire bay. It was a surreal scene–one that I have never seen and that I would have never guessed to see here–and I hope my photos can help you see that Hong Kong is a place of remarkable natural beauty. No horseshoe crabs in these photos, but I’ll post some in the near future.

Learn more about the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation at their website.

Clockenflap

Clockenflap is Hong Kong’s long-overdue answer to every other world city’s music festivals. With the venue set against the incomparable sweeping view of Victoria Harbour, the festival is still in its infancy but it’s well on its way to becoming a major event on the international music circuit. Spirits were high and people were dressed in their Sunday hipster best–all of this under crisp blue skies and on one of Hong Kong’s rare urban patches of grass.

Clockenflap took place from Nov 30 to Dec 1 in Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District. 

Dodowa Festival II

The Dodowa Festival (first post here) was a wild whirlwind of colors, music and dance. But as an outsider I found the spectators just as captivating. Many stood and reacted to the performances in unison, smiling and swaying together. Children darted through and around the adults’ legs, feeding off of the energy in the air and the high-sugar snacks bought for them by parents in good moods.

I mean, just look at them. Adorable.

A delicious balloon.

Smiles all around.

Sandwiched between friends. 

A baby more interested in his succulent fingers than the partying around him as he hangs off his mother’s back. 

A friend helps this little girl get her earring back on.

Earring back on; ready to pose.

The elders watched everything from a safe distance.

The local candy shop was definitely having a good sales day.

A glamorous and poised woman.

Wearing the national colors of Ghana. Three beautiful girls wearing the entire rainbow.

Dodowa Festival

To this day, I’m not entirely sure what exactly I had the privilege of attending. The Dodowa Festival took place in the eponymous rural town where I was living during my semester abroad in the Fall of 2011.  My two classmates and I showed up to one of the local schools’ soccer fields to find it filled with excitable children and men and women dressed extravagantly in their most beautiful traditional wear, complete with scepters and sometimes even crowns. There were dancers and drummers and impromptu conga lines that we three girls were inevitably pulled into, our initial hesitation quickly forgotten as we were swept up in the contagious festivities.

These imposing matriarchs watched over the events with a dignified and somber air, but eventually joined in the dancing themselves. 

Gorgeous African fabrics always brighten up any situation. 

Vendors were selling all sorts of sweet treats, delighting children and soothing parched throats on this hot sunny day. 

People were wearing matching costumes, while children donned their heads with paper hats adorned with printouts of their favorite Ghanaian football player. The atmosphere was quivering with irresistible ebullient energy. I didn’t know what we were celebrating, but I sure as hell was going to celebrate with them.

Everyone was wearing outfits cut out of the same cloth. I think it is the official pattern of Dodowa or something. 

A happy spectator.

Sometimes you just have to take that important business call even if it’s the day of the Dodowa Festival, you’re wearing a special outfit and you’re 12 years old. 

It started raining, but it did nothing to dampen spirits. If anything, the refreshing drops were welcomed. 

A drummer wearing makeup to look like an old man. I have no idea why.

He’s sexy and he knows it. 

At one point a handsome man who I could only assume was the King of Dodowa was hoisted up in a litter carried on the shoulders of several men. From underneath the large, ornamented and unnecessary sun umbrella carried by yet more followers, he waved at the adoring crowd as he jostled around in his sedan chair, his heavy bling jingling with every movement.

Another Dodowa dignitary.

A man for whom his presence and golden staff were more than enough decoration.

Time to dance!

Sometimes you just have to put the camera down. (Photo credit: Isabelle J.)

P.S.: A year and a half later, I’ve finally decided to find out what this festival was all about. According to this website, the Dodowa “ngmayem” festival is an annual event held by the Shai tribe in remembrance of a great famine that lasted seven years until it was put to an end by a bountiful harvest in the 8th year. “Ngmayem” means “to hoot at hunger”. 

The Fishermen of Cape Coast

Cape Coast Castle was built by a Swedish trading company in the 17th century on the southern shores of Ghana. First a gold and timber trade settlement, then a slave depot for the Atlantic slave trade, it now stands as an incongruous sight on the shores of Cape Coast, a fishing town. It serves as a reminder of a deep scar on the heart of the nation, visited daily by hoards of tourists and students, as well as a convenient launching point for many fishing pirogues.

A schoolgirl chases her classmates out of one of the many dark tunnels leading to the castle’s underground storerooms. 

Schoolboys peering over the walls, perhaps to watch the fishermen. 

People hanging over the castle walls to talk to fellow fishermen in their pirogues. 

Fishermen socializing while they sit and repair their nets at the foot of the castle. 

Fishermen gathering to discuss the day’s work.

A fisherman sneaking a nap against the walls of the castle. 

The white castle stands in sharp contrast against the homes built next to it.

While her parents are busy working, this young girl takes care of an even younger girl.

Fishermen hauling in their catch on Bojo Beach, which is on the way to Cape Coast.

(Photos taken in November and December, 2011 while I was studying abroad in Ghana).

Portraits of Young Bonobos

In my last post, I wanted you to introduce you to the magical being that is the bonobo and to the wonderful sanctuary that has taken on the mission of caring for orphaned bonobos. In this post I want to exhibit the stunning similarity between these creatures and us humans.


These juvenile bonobos are kept separate from the babies and from the adults who have integrated into regular bonobo societies. Once they’re mature enough they too will be released into the semi-wild enclosures. 

Many animal lovers do not doubt that animals have a soul, a consciousness far more complex than science is able to prove. I love animals, but my appreciation for apes is very different. Anyone who sees or interacts with them for the first time cannot help but feel awestruck at their uncanny humanness: the curl of their fingers as they grip an object, the sounds of glee they make when they play, or the expressions on their faces when they ponder.

I swear they like to mess with people. These wires are mildly electric. 

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It does not surprise me that one group is pushing for captive chimpanzees to be recognized as individuals deserving of basic rights (NYT). Some people look towards the stars and wonder if there are other sentient beings in this universe. I look at the great apes and think that these alien seekers are looking in the wrong place: there are already several separate humanoid races on this planet!

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I’ve always been a nature lover, but I remember very clearly the first time I felt the value of conservation resonate deeply within me when I was trekking with mountain gorillas in Rwanda. I realized that with apes, there was more than the common arguments for species’ conservation such as the ecological impact, the responsibility of humans or the intrinsic value of nature: to let them go extinct would be a tragic genocide.

LLC_1574 - Version 2Some bonobos, having been rescued from living as pets in possibly abusive homes, exhibit strange behavior. I’m not sure whether this behavior is normal, but the bonobo here liked pouring dirt over himself. 

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A happy bonobo baby with its mother. 


An old soul.