Understanding China: Pure People Part 2

People no story = people all story.

Part 1 is here.


[Place where many Chinese films are shot, Kaiping, China]


[Shenzhen River Delta, Shenzhen, China]


[Fenyang, China]


[Strawberry picker, Yangshuo, China]


[Batman, Shanghai, China]

Chillin' With The Watsons 332

[World’s first bank, Pingyao, China]


[Harbin, China]

Teacher's Day 164

[Teacher’s Day celebration, Fenyang, China]

呼和哈特 382

[Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, China]

Chillin' With The Watsons 354

[Pingyao, China]

Until Next Time

6 of these pictures don’t have faces. Backs/posture can be cool too. Hope you enjoyed this post!

– Rhys

Understanding China: Pure People Part 1

People are the most powerful tool a photographer has.

Faces, more specifically. It’s a huge contributor to the power of DLSR’s and oof (out of focus). Blur the background + pop the face => great picture.

The pictures today are of people. And they’re of people in a vacuum. Save a small location caption, I haven’t written any text about them. In a way, there’s nothing to write. These pictures don’t fit into Photo Series 1: My Stories From China nor Photo Series 3: Photography in the Abstract. They are categorized in Photo Series 2: Understanding China simply because people combined are culture. They’re here, by themselves, together.


[Classical Gardens of Suzhou, Suzhou, China]


[Shanghai Museum of Ancient Chinese Art, Shanghai, China]

Chillin' With The Watsons 303

[City Wall, Pinyao, China]

Chillin' With The Watsons 240

[Fenyang, China]


[Macao Musuem, Macao, China]

Teacher's Day 091

[Top of stadium bleachers, Fenyang, China]

Xian 158

[Xian, China]

Xian 358

[City wall, Xian, China]

呼和哈特 368

[Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, China]

呼和哈特 453

[Gravestone painter, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, China]

Until Next Time

It’s nice to write posts like these when I don’t want to think too much. No story construction. No societal arguments. No photographic analyzations. Just pictures. Hope you enjoyed the post!

– Rhys

Rafts and Rock Climbing in Guilin

I have visited more than 80 countries and over 100 cities. I have found that no city can surpass the beauty of Guilin. Guilin is really a bright pearl in China.” — Richard Nixon

Word up bro. Guilin is, as they say, “the shizzle”. If you like water/mountain combos or rock climbing read on! For reference, this post is the 2nd in Photo Series 1: My Stories From China. So get outta here abstract photo composition theory! Let’s just talk. For double reference, Guilin is located in South Central China so it feels much like the Southeast Asian countries (Thailand, Vietnam, etc.). The geographical closeness to SE Asia + nature combo makes it a tourist hot spot. Let’s check out why:

Relax, You’re On A Raft

After a night in Guilin, I took a couple-hour raft ride down to a nearby town of Yangshuo. One of the top 10 most relaxing chunks in my life.


My feet, relaxed. 2-person raft made out of PVC pipe. Other person (and shoe on the right) is a 35-year-old MBA’ed Dutchman. [Li River, China]


Others chillin’. Perfect temperature. Perfect sun. Perfect sounds from flowing water. [Li River, China]


Chinese tourists tour too! (And for some reason buy the kitschy flower headband.) I like it when people hold their legs like this. [Li River, China]


Wedding photos are a BIG DEAL in China. High-class folks (土豪呢?) get the best photos. [Li River, China]

Water-Mountain Reflections


The water was damn clear. Reflection looks like shark teeth. Or stalagmites/stalactites with the y positions flipped. [Li River, China]


Love this picture. Bubbles in top dark water look like stars in space. [Li River, China]

Whaddup Local Old Folk?

Old people often retire and don’t go back to work. But in Tourist China, it doesn’t make enough financial sense for old folks to stay in retirement. These guys told me they work a couple hours a day, make mad bank and can still get their chill on. The life.


My raft ores-man had a ridiculous stutter. And it was awesome for me. Most Chinese would speak too fast, but this guy spoke at perfect speed! e.g. “Where are you-oo-oo-oo-oo from?” [Li River, China]


The local fisherman train cormorants to pull fish out of the water and bring them back to the fisherman. Cray. Now it’s just a tourist show, but still damn cool. [Li River, China]


Pulling a fish from the bird’s mouth. Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime. Surround that man with tourists and he’ll also pay for his children’s college tuition. [Li River, China]

Karst Rock Climbing

With the raft ride over, I got into Yangshuo for a 3-night stay. This place has a bunch o’ karst rock formations. It’s real good for climbing. Best in China good:

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 12.11.25 AM

The Rocks


Moon hill. Some climb (I hiked) to the top. [Yangshuo, China]


I like when plant life scales the rocks. [Yangshuo, China]

I Climb, Hard


I’m on the wall. My belayer was pro. Climbed 5.13a with flip-flops. Disgusting. Love the colors in the foreground. Pic taken by Jose Luis (friend I met from Luxembourg). [Yangshuo, China]


Ugh. So much more rock to climb. Pic attribution to Jose Luis again. [Yangshuo, China]


Proud resting on my 5.small. Props to Jose Luis again. [Yangshuo, China]

Real Climbers Climb Real Climbs


Maneuver on Moon Hill. [Yangshuo, China]


Pants blend in. [Yangshuo, China]


3 blues. He’s paying attention to the guy above (in real life and on this blog post). [Yangshuo, China]


The photographer from above (Jose Luis) leads a 5.10.


I like her angle, especially with respect to the rope above.

Until Next Time

Some people spend weeks in Yangshuo. Others arrive and never leave. In many ways, it’s the perfect getaway. Touristy enough for partying/English. Nature-y enough to retract into the countryside. Highly recommended. When you go to China, go off the beaten path. But also, go to Yangshuo.

The World’s Largest Mall is Abandoned

Welcome to the second post in Photo Series 2: Understanding China. Ghost malls are cool. Let’s check ’em out.

Why I Went To This Mall

The summer of 2013, I spent 6 weeks to walk the 500-mile Colorado Trail. I wanted to do something similar in China but instead of walking constant nature, I wanted to walk through constant city. My 100-mile trip looked like this: http://goo.gl/maps/igrrm. Guangdong to Dongguan to Shenzhen to Hong Kong; 4 of the world’s 30 most populous cities (according to this metric). Unfortunately, I got quite sick at the beginning of the route and was only able to walk about 40 miles. Nevertheless, this trip allowed me to see strange attractions that I wouldn’t have seen “on-the -beaten-path”. One of my favorites was the New South China Mall — the world’s largest mall, mostly abandoned.


It seems weird, right? The whole point of this walk was to be surrounded by dense urbanity, by people. And here was a massive abandoned mall? Those two don’t quite compute. Another strange aspect of this mall is that it has never been occupied: it’s been 99% vacant since 2005. The ramen noodle billionaire who funded it should’ve kept to noodles.

I arrived at the mall, ate some Pizza Hut until sunset, then went inside. I shouldn’t have explored at dusk. Hot damn it was creepy.


Essentially the first thing I saw when I walked in. Happiness graffitied out. Note beginning expanse of mall in the background.


When the lights were still on, they made for this space-like yellow-blue combination. All the escalators had tarps over them, possibly to protect against dirt?


It wasn’t working. I wonder who (if anyone) was in charge of maintenance.


The dirt/dust combo was everywhere. These flowers were beautiful once, before they were covered with a centimeter of minuscule debris.


Piles made. Piles forgotten.


Organized chaos.


I hadn’t seen a soul for the last 30 minutes. This car scared the living hell out of me when it drove up. It marks the transition of my time in the mall. A transition from dusk to night, from dusty to the terror of unintentionally uninhabited space.


Paradise? Disagree.


Aw hell naw.


A small fraction of the never used food court tables.


I don’t like not knowing when this trash was left here.


New anomalies I’d encounter around every turn in the pseudo-darkness. 


Always random. Always creepy.

Things Have Changed: This Mall is Indicative of China’s Growth

The situation that I have conveyed above is not entirely true, but rather what I had been told was true: Here exists the world’s largest mall, completely abandoned. My information primarily came from a New South China Mall Wikipedia article. Its most recent citation was from more than three years ago. In the last three years, there has been incredible residential growth in the area surrounding the mall, driving retail growth within the mall itself. When I arrived outside the mall, I saw thousands of people: families playing, security guards monitoring the parking lot, hostesses at the information desk. This wasn’t the post-apocalyptic wasteland I had wanted. Asking around, I learned that nearly 50% of the mall’s spaces were filled! I actually had to search to find the abandoned part. And when I took the elevator from a desolate ground floor up to the top floor, I found a karaoke bar! I asked the bartender why this high-class establishment was located on top of a creepy retail expanse. He responded, “Rent’s cheap.”

The transition of massive Chinese developments from “ghost” to occupied is a theme throughout China. 400 million Chinese have moved into cities in the last 30 years with another 400 million moving into urban areas the next 15. You can’t build houses, retail and public transport once they get there, you need to build it before. That’s why stupid projects like New South China Mall are only stupid on the surface. Before I went to China, I may have argued that the developer should’ve waited three years before beginning construction. But if he would have, who knows how much property and labor costs would’ve risen or whether another developer was eyeing the same opportunity. All that the developer knows is that people will come soon. In China, the classic Field of Dreams quote is reversed. It’s not: “If you build it, they will come.” Instead, “They will come regardless. Build it.

Until Next Time

As always, hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed writing it. What a surreal experience, exploring a massive abandoned mall with only my camera flash. Similar to that scene from Saw actually.

Finally, the argument presented here is but one of the reasons for “ghost buildings” in China. Economics are confusing, especially in China where their state-sponsored system is unfamiliar to Americans like myself. One of the most interesting driving factors for mass construction is that investing in property is a great way for the rising middle-class to invest their money. When other outlets like the stock market are too volatile, buying a bunch of apartments around China and letting their value rise (see above) is a good way to beat inflation.

See you next week when I tell my next personal Chinese story.


The Time Has Come!

Welcome to my blog. It’s mostly a photo blog, but I’ll transition to add music and straight ideas over time. A true photo blog like this has been long time coming. I have concentrated on photography three times in my life: Nepal, The Colorado Trail, and now, China. For Nepal and The Colorado Trail, I used Facebook as my medium to show pictures and convey my thoughts. As I put more thought into my photography, I found that there was an incongruity between how I was displaying my work and what I was displaying. In essence, I found that Facebook was too casual for what I wanted to express. I want to express first-class ideas through the lens of photography. I want make art, I guess. And this blog feels like a much better place to do that than Facebook.

Photo Series 1: My Stories From China

This photo blog will be split into three separate series. Photo Series 1: My Stories From China is the most personal, the most relatable, the most fun. Posts in this category will mostly be told in a linear, story-like fashion. Here are some stories I’m excited to tell:


[Fenyang, China]


[Dongguan, China]


[Nanjing, China]


[Macao, China]


[Chengdu, China]

Photo Series 2: Understanding China

In Photo Series 2: Understanding China, I’ll present some of the ideas to help us understand the unique way in which China operates. I’ll take us from the personal (My Stories From China) to the societal. Here are a few choice pictures from this series:


[Suzhou, China]


[Chongqing, China]

老爷山 069

[Mt. Old Grandfather, China]



[Dongguan, China]


[Hong Kong, China]


Photo Series 3: Photography in the Abstract

My final series is by far the most “highbrow”. In Photography in the Abstract, I zoom out one more level, from societal to cerebral. I would classify these theses under “Photography Theory”; the pictures found here are unconnected to a specific time or place.

I define abstract pictures as ones that are: not interesting for my personal story AND don’t reflect a truth about China/life.

Abstract pictures are difficult to differentiate because:

1. I have defined them as the not of two other concepts, and therefore there are lots of pictures, none of which have inherent similarities.

2. They are the closest to art. There is no story/thesis behind them except for my arbitrary groupings.

What’s in store:



Chillin' With The Watsons 249


呼和哈特 206

Until Next Time

I am still low-budget/low-time in many ways: I use a point-and-shoot camera, I don’t do any post-production, and I don’t pay for this site. Nevertheless, I’m excited to explore this more serious approach to photography. Hope you enjoy my posts as much as I do. And please, do leave comments/questions here or on various social media. I’m open to feedback or just let me know if you simply enjoy it. Thanks!