Asian Traditions


The biggest reason I came to teach and travel across Asia was to get out of my comfort zone and most importantly, to learn.

Xingping, China
A fisherman demonstrates the dying art of using cormorant birds to catch fish on the Li River. The 1,000 year old tradition dates back to 960 A.D. and is scarcely used anymore except by a select few fishermen. The fishermen send the cormorants into the water to catch fish and bring them back into the boat. To ensure the birds do not swallow all of the fish, a snare string is attached to the bird’s neck, stopping the cormorant from eating the larger fish. The cormorant is trained to return to the boat and spit the larger fish out for the fisherman. To keep the birds happy, the fishermen reward their birds with feeding them the smaller fish that were caught.

In the heart of the Longji rice terraces is Huangluo Village; better known as “the long haired women village.” In this unique tradition, women may only cut their hair once in their lives; when they turn 18; to symbolize adulthood and that they can now marry. When the hair is cut, it is kept as a symbol of luck or wealth and made into a ornamental headpiece; given to the groom on their wedding day. It is also worn in different styles depending on social status. If her hair is wrapped around her head, she is married and doesn’t have children. If it’s in covered with cloth, she is looking for a husband. And if there is a bun in front, she is married with children such as the woman pictured here, sewing the traditional Yao outfit. You may ask why would these women grow their hair to an average of 6 feet in length? It’s believed the longer they grow their hair, the more luck, fortune and wealth they receive.

A beautiful woman playing traditional Chinese music in Chengdu, China.

Every morning in Shanghai, China, dozens of residents practice the ancient practice of Tai Chi along the banks of the Huangpu River.
The first mention of Tai Chi dates back to the Book of Changes in the Zhou Dynasty (1100 BC). Its principles are based in Taoism; which focus on the natural balance of all things and the need for spiritual living within nature.
It incorporates “yin” and “yang” which are opposing forces within the body and “qi,”which is one’s life force and energy. Tai chi exercises are equally balanced between yin and yang which makes the exercise so effective for psychological and physical well being.
In a UCLA study of participants with tension headaches (which I also get), it was concluded to significantly reduce the number of headaches as well as the severity of the pain.
In a Portland study of elderly participants in a community center, it was concluded that the individuals who practiced tai chi showed significant improvement in all measures of functional balance, physical performance, and a reduced fear of falling.

Yuanyang, China
These cute little Hani girls were helping their mom sell hard boiled eggs on the street. The small one ran up and opened her palm, proudly displaying the egg in her hand. I bought two for a good morning snack and made this picture.

I returned from hiking Zhangjiajie with swollen knees and all I wanted was some ibuprofen and a cold beer. I settled into the one foot tall chair on the hotel patio; which overlooked a rice paddy and centered among the towering peaks.
A Chinese family with a young woman, her parents and uncle sat down at the table beside me. I quickly learned the young woman spoke some English and I used my broken Chinese for conversation. Ironically, she was a teacher like me and was also 30. She taught in a fishing village a thousand miles away in Eastern China. She radiated a quiet, confident glow that I knew I wanted to photograph. After a meal of spicy pork, bamboo chutes, and roasted potatoes, she posed in the doorway and I made this photo. As she and her family left, she told me “hou hui you qi” which means maybe we will meet again in the future.

Kindness in Jiuxian

We walked the remote village of rural Jiuxian, China and wandered into the back alleys to check out the interesting traditional architecture. This sweet woman peeked outside of her house and was curious with what we were doing. I snapped a couple quick photos of her and then asked for a portrait which she politely declined, saying “I am too old; I am not beautiful anymore.” To be honest, that response shocked and saddened me a bit and all I could think to say was that I disagreed and thought she was beautiful. She responded with a bit of grin and livened up in conversation so hopefully that made her day.

The Last Day of the Chinese New Year is celebrated by the Lantern Festival; a tradition that dates back to the Han Dynasty over 2000 years ago. Also referred to as Chinese Valentine’s Day, it’s celebrated by a stunning display of lights, decorated lanterns and fireworks. It’s a day of great importance in the Chinese community and marks the excitement of the coming of Spring. There were thousands of people walking through the festival streets in Shenzhen, admiring the illuminated displays. Our group of teachers even brought out our own lanterns that we lit on the shores of the South China Sea.

I had the opportunity to a 3 day trek through Laos and we came upon Mokchong Village for our homestay. Mokchong is a tight knit village of 60 farming families, with no running water or electricity. There were two community showers where sometimes up to 7-8 people would bathe at a time without privacy. Happy kids ran around, with farm animals milling about and you got the sense that the neighbors looked out for one another. It was a beautiful thing.

A happy village boy and the family pig.

Mokchong Village. A Laos boy and his bird. If you look closely, you can see a insect in his hand, trying to feed it.

Balloon Girl

Morning Routine
If you ever get the chance to do a homestay, I highly recommend it. When we trekked through the Laos countryside, we came upon many things that made me appreciate the little things more. I caught this young man on the way to his morning routine with his brand new toothbrush. Once a week, a Lao man would come from the big city to deliver necessities to the village. Some of the more popular items appeared to be toiletries, batteries and toys for the children. Many people just didn’t have the transportation to go to the city when they wanted unless they hiked 6+ hours through rugged land.

Somewhere in Laos
She was the only girl running around with 8 boys; all of them running, playing and getting filthy. They all took turns wrestling and she beat the hell out of anyone who tried to mess with her. No doubt about it, she is a firecracker. Her fearlessness and confidence was a thing of beauty.

The famous Buddha head at Wat Mahathat in Ayutthaya Historical Park, Thailand.
The temple was built in the 14th century but it’s unknown how or when the Buddha head became entangled within the tree roots. Most likely, it was caused by the 1767 Burmese invasion of Ayutthaya where the city and temples were reduced to ruins; with many Buddha images and faces being vandalized by the attackers. A theory suggests when the temple was left abandoned, the tree grew and became entwined with the Buddha head.
It wasn’t until the 1950’s that the Dept. of Fine Art of Thailand began restoration work in Ayutthaya; updating and making the park beautiful once again.

“Crystal Universe”
A woman and her friend take in the Team Lab exhibit in Shenzhen, China.
The award winning art exhibit is an interactive experience; seeking to explore the relationships between nature and mankind in the digital age.

Team Lab Exhibit, Shenzhen, China

The commitment to the fading tradition of the geisha in Kyoto, Japan.
The tradition of becoming a geisha is becoming a lost art but the culture in Kyoto is stronger than anywhere in the world. Yet, there are only about 200 geishas remaining in the city; a sharp contrast to the 19th century where 2,000 geishas practices. There is some hope though. According to some city officials, the number may eventually rise again due to a regained interest because of movies and television.
The origin of the Japanese Geisha traces back 1500 years and is considered to be a great honor. Geisha training used to begin at four years old but it has since evolved to starting in their early teenage years.
Geisha literally translates to “artist” and their primary duty is to be an entertainer at parties or events; trained with a wide variety of traditional skills. They dance, play Japanese games and classical music, and sometimes are expected to master poetry and calligraphy. They are highly sought after and are well paid; with a 2 hour event costing around $2000 USD. Considering their kimono dress alone may cost in upwards of $5,000, the price seems reasonable. I walked around the famous Gion Corner of Kyoto with the hope to see one. I wasn’t the only one as the hordes of tourists flocked to the neighborhood too. I paced up and down one street and turned my head. When I looked back, I was surprised by a beautiful geisha stealthily rushing her way in front of me. She walked faster than anyone I had ever seen and quickly disappeared into a house. I managed to snap a couple quick photos and this was the only one that was halfway decent.
I wish I would’ve had another chance to go back and shoot again but that’s alright. The experience of seeing a gorgeous geisha in real life was thrilling.

A Japanese boatsman in a ring of fire in Kyoto, Japan.