Little did I know when Anthony Yap proposed this trip last year what an adventure it would be! Those of us who made the trip were myself, Anthony, Rosie Hughes, Russell Lucas, Marie Shaw, Alan Bennett, Geoff and Jill Shaw, Cookie Chong, Jenny and Cheng Yip. Paul had to head home after KL to attend family matters. In addition to our club members there was Marcellian Tan (one of the organisers), a group of his friends and the irrepressible Jack, our local guide.
We started in KL with a side trip to Melaka – it helped to acclimatise with the hot weather and to remind some of us how to use our cameras. KL was a dusty bustling city with a lot of building happening in a rather random fashion and terrible traffic. Melaka was charming – I would go back there any day. Highlights of the Malaysian stopover were the Iron Mosque (at dawn), Petronas towers at dusk and MelakaJonkers and the Serkam Mosque. Marie and I gowned up to enter the mosque – but as mere females were only allowed to look in from the outside areas.
Then on to China, after arrival at the Guilin airport we got onto our barely air conditioned bus with all our luggage. This was our main form of transport for the week other than various forms of local transport and all the walking. First stop was the Longji rice terraces via the village of Dazhai. This gave us an introduction of what was to follow. We transferred to a village bus, then local vans…then porters carried most of our camera gear and overnight bags in baskets as we walked to the rice terraces at Xiaozhai Yao village. The Yao people were very friendly and the terraces a wonderful exercise in graphic design- complete with local models! The trip back was equally eventful with a bit of 4 wheel driving down the mountain tracks.
There was no resting during the day with these guys either. Once we had extracted ourselves from the rice terraces we went on to scramble up a goat track to photograph fish farms in the valley (Huxian glass fields), then onto another bridge with mountain backdrop at dusk (Copper bridge Tianxian village).
Dawn on day 3 (July 11th) saw us with a buffalo farmer model on yet another lovely stone bridge, then some portrait photography in a traditional home (Daxu village). All this in 30+ degree heat. Then things got interesting at sunset when we did some mountain climbing to get to the top of Wuzhi hill for sunset photos across the Li River valley. This was practice for the following morning when we met at 3.30 am then travelled to Xianggong hill for a 600+ vertical step climb before breakfast! This is a popular scenic spot overlooking the valley. To get ahead of the crowds of Chinese photographers we had local porters. They lined up at the gate (which opened at 4.30) and ran up the steps with our tripods and bags to put them in position so we could get the best positions for the dawn shoot. We came up behind them followed by the hordes of local photographers. It was an experience! The photo on the previous page shows some of the photographers lined up on one of the 4 available terraces.
After this strenuous start to the day we went on to shoot a farmer and his bull (paid model) crossing a charming stone bridge then to Xingping town– a charming old village for a bit of street photography and shopping. The evening saw us boarding tuktuks to the river then onto a 4 seater river conveyance (motorised pontoon) which delivered us to an island in the middle of the Li river to photograph 2 elderly cormorant fishermen- the brothers Huang. These remarkable old men (one late 70s, the other in his 80s) practice the ancient art of fishing with cormorants – though their behaviour made me think they probably make a very good living these days as professional models! It was wonderful to see them on the river.
The following morning we took a journey down the river in the dark on the pontoons – slightly illegal I believe, but the only way to get to the scenic background before dawn. Then we met another accomplished cormorant fisherman and his companion – plus a few local fishermen in the background. We travelled back to Xingping by jungle track, local van, ferry, tuktuk … you get the idea! Then onto a local ferry again to photograph the older fishermen in their home.
We spent the last evening in Guilin, a developing modern city (Starbucks, KFC, etc). For the final evening we dodged a storm to photograph the 4 lakes scenic area. We were so fortunate on this trip that it was so well organised and customised to make the most of our days in Guilin. The opportunities we were given to go to the remote villages and meet the local people were outstanding. Our local guide was an enthusiastic chronic optimist by the name of Jack Yao- and many thanks must go to Marcellian Tan and Anthony for working with Jack to put together this trip. It was the best value of any photography tour I have ever done- and probably the most physical, but worth every upward step!
More images can be found in the China 2018 gallery: