Back to blog index

Capture the Colour Travel Photography – China in Five Colours

Neighbourhood firework seller, Harbin, Heilongjiang Province 
Can you capture the spirit of your travel experiences in just five colours? That’s the challenge posed by Travel Supermarket’s Capture the Colour travel photography competition, now running for its second year after the massive success of last year’s competition. 
Heather from Ferreting the Fun nudged me to participate this year (her photos, with great mini stories attached, are wonderful), but entry is open to any travel blogger. I had so much fun with last year’s entry, so here are my five for this year: China in five colours.
RED red RED red RED red RED red RED red RED red RED red

Pingyao, in Shanxi Province, is a beautifully preserved walled Ming Dynasty town and one of China’s most intense immersive tourism experiences. I highly recommend it for those who love full-frontal crowds, tour groups wearing matching novelty outfits, getting your photo taken in a velcro-attached Ming Dynasty costume, and paying three times the real value of everything. Despite this, there are moments of quiet beauty amongst the madness and souvenir spruikers, like this traditional paper cut seller hanging out her wares across a tiny alleyway. 
BLUE blue BLUE blue BLUE blue BLUE blue BLUE blue BLUE 

 A hard day’s ride on the back of a camel through the Singing Sand Dunes of Gansu Province and this was our reward – the pale orb of the full moon rising over indigo coloured dunes. The sand was cool and soft under our bare feet as I leaned on Matt’s shoulder to get the long exposure without a tripod.

YELLOW yellow YELLOW yellow YELLOW yellow YELLOW
The Nanchang Temple in Wuxi, close to Shanghai, has lovely views from its pagoda (after you have climbed thousands of stairs, that is) and is right next to a street food precinct. Effort = Reward
GREEN green GREEN green GREEN green GREEN green GREEN
Qinghai. It’s utterly magnificent. This fairytale road leads down through green fields full of tiny wildflowers to Shizang Monastery, a rarely visited holy village hidden from view by a broad red cliff deep in the valley. 
(And just to show you don’t need a fancy camera to get great travel shots, this was taken with my iPhone.)
WHITE white WHITE white WHITE white WHITE white WHITE

 I couldn’t complete this series without at least one food photo! This dumpling cook works in the Nanxiang Xiaolongbao kitchen at Yu Gardens in Shanghai, filling steamer baskets with xiaolongbao – plump little soup-filled dumplings.

And in the spirit of passing the baton, I nominate these five wonderful travel bloggers and photographers to show us their five colours!
Robyn from Oolong to Earl Grey (a photography buddy and fellow Shanghai tragic now blogging from an English village)
Chi-chi Zhang and Zachary Wang from China Nomads (extraordinary photos of China’s wildest places)
Barbara from The Dropout Diaries (who, in a bizarrely strange twist of fate turns out to be a cousin I had never met…she lives in Asia and writes a blog about travel and street food….go figure!)
Sally from Unbrave Girl (who first showed me the delights of Wuxi)
Kate from Driving Like a Maniac – she not only lives in Italy, but cooks like she was born there.

Can Someone Please Let Me Know When My Good Luck Is About To Run Out?

It’s been quite the week.

Not one, but three extraordinary and amazing things have happened one after the other, bang, bang, bang, and I’m beginning to worry that my overflowing Good Luck will cause some Bad Luck to sit up and pay attention, hoping to get in on the act. I suspect, on reflection, that I’ve become quite Chinese in my thinking.

Firstly, I was asked to take part in the Shanghai International Literary Festival next month, a three week smorgasbord of writers, books and avid readers starting tomorrow, March 1, and running until March 17.
I’ll be the session moderator for a literary lunch on Friday, March 15 at M on the Bund featuring author Audra Ang and her new book ‘To The People, Food Is Heaven’, describing Audra’s years in China as an Associated Press journalist obsessed by food. During that time Audra covered some of the most remarkable and memorable stories in China’s recent history, and her book is an incredible account of those times.
Later that same afternoon Audra and I will lead a Shanghai street food tour, introducing a lucky group of food-lovers to some of Sanghai’s best and tastiest street food.

I can’t think of anything better than to get together with food-loving book-lovers, so when I was approached to take part in the festival I said yes, right away! If you’d like to come along and enjoy a great meal and hear Audra speak I’d so love to see you there. Tickets are selling fast, so I’ve included details below on how you can attend. (Stop press: tickets to the food tour have SOLD OUT but lunch tickets are still available)

Then a few days later I discovered I had been named a finalist in this year’s Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year awards, the award ceremony I was lucky enough to attend last year in London. I was completely excited about making it to the finals with almost 8,000 entries this year from talented food photographers the world over, and judges of the likes of food writer Jay Rayner, celebrated chef Tom Aikens, and incredible food photographer David Loftus. Jumping up and down a bit? Perhaps I was…

(Much as I’d love to, I’m not permitted to reveal the photo that made the finals until the awards in London in April.)

Finally, and as if the week wasn’t already shaping up to a cracker, I discovered I was a finalist in the 2013 Bloggies (yes! the Oscars for the blogging world!), in the category of Best Asian Weblog.

Now I don’t which of you wonderful people nominated me, but I thank you from the bottom of my heart – I feel extraordinarily humbled and grateful that you considered my blog as worthy of being amongst the best in that category. Wow.  WOW.

The other blogs in this category are all brilliant and if you have a chance check them out.

The winner is decided on the number of votes received, so if you have a minute please hop onto the 2013 Bloggies website to vote.

All you need do is tick the blogs you like (I have included a voting example above, in case you’re confused 😉 and after writing the robot-proof words in the box at the bottom of the page with your email address, click to submit your nominations. Your email address is needed to prevent you voting 800 times from one email address. Which you can totally do if you want, but they won’t count 799 of those votes. Damn.

Anyway, it’s dead easy and I will love you forever and ever if you vote. I might even send you a dumpling or ten. Pork and chive? Shrimp and white cabbage?

With an abundance of good luck raining down on my head this week I began to wonder when it would all end. I’m not naturally a pessimist you know, but working in the Emergency Room of a great big hospital does tend to make you think that Good Luck can’t last forever, and runs of Bad Luck happen all too often, even to very nice people. When my Bad Luck turns up, I’d like enough warning so I could get to a bunker somewhere quiet, in the hope of avoiding it for as long as possible.

According to Chinese thinking, when a run of good luck occurs, bad luck is likely to be just around the corner waiting for you to mess up. When things go up, the Chinese believe that the natural tendency of the universe is to turn in the opposite direction, and quite soon. It’s their way of being prepared at all times for sudden changes in ones’ fortune, good or bad.

Well, to hell with that. I think I just need to analyze it all less and enjoy it more. Stop thinking. Start opening champagne and preparing those dumplings for all of you!

But just in case, if you see my Bad Luck lurking around a corner somewhere, could you let me know?It’ll give me time to get my bunker filled with snacks.

Shanghai International Literary Festival March 1-17, 2013 
Full event program here

Audra Ang Literary Lunch
M on the Bund, Friday March 15, 12pm – 2pm
RMB 188 including meal

Market Walk and Food Tour   SOLD OUT!
With Audra Ang and yours truly
Friday March 15, 3pm – 4.30pm
RMB 75

You can purchase tickets one of two ways:

Through mypiao  or at M on the Bund, in person only, Saturdays and Sundays 10am-5pm during the festival.

Capture the Colour Contest: China in Five Colours

I love seeing other people’s travel photographs, and when I ask to see someone’s holiday snaps I’m not just being polite and secretly hoping they won’t show me – I really, really mean it, to the point of badgering them to come up with the goods. 

So when my friends Maryanne of Ephemera and Detritus and Kate of Driving Like a Maniac both tagged me to participate in Travel Supermarket’s Capture the Colour contest it gave me the perfect opportunity to vicariously travel through their photographs and by extension everyone else they nominated. I’m inspired, as ever, by the travels others undertake, and how they ‘see’ the places they visit.

The project is really imaginative in scope, asking for an image in each of five colours – red, blue, yellow, green and white. Capturing the essence of each colour in a single photograph was a great interlude while the trusty van spent the last week in Beijing having vital repairs, and the less trusty Mr Chen argued endlessly about whether it was his fault the water heater broke and who should pay for it. 

Along the way I discovered something about the way I see colour around me – through my own eyes China is truly every shade of red, but also surprisingly green. And I learned my eye is rarely caught by anything yellow, despite its imperial connotations and ubiquity in temples and palaces in China, and I had to hunt very hard for an image that fitted.

As I sat on the cool green grass at The Temple of Heaven Park in Beijing this afternoon I made a point of noticing the yellows around me – the lemon ruffles of a little girl’s dress, the zesty sneakers of a teenager, the late afternoon sunlight gleaming on a pair of badminton players, the gold-coloured tiles of the gateway pavilions. 

It takes the gentle push of friends, as always, for me to ‘see’ things in new ways. 

RED red RED red RED red RED red RED red RED red RED red

A hot summer night, a single moment in a Chinese street market, and then she glanced away. The air was thick with the red glow of neon lights, the steam, smoke and sizzle of slices of meat frying on the table-top barbecues, the shouts of men calling orders back and forth and touting for customers, the clink of tall dark green beer bottles, and the hot red faces of the late night crowds.

BLUE blue BLUE blue BLUE blue BLUE blue BLUE blue BLUE
Shanghai’s tallest building, the World Financial Centre – affectionately known to us as ‘The Bottle Opener’ – towers so far above the rest of the skyline the six-story buildings in the foreground are toys by comparison. They had recently been re-roofed in cobalt blue in preparation for Shanghai’s debut on the world stage – World Expo 2010. 
YELLOW yellow YELLOW yellow YELLOW yellow YELLOW
Chinese stores often have quirky and random names. I like ‘feeling’ a lot, although I’m not sure what it has to do with cross-stitch. The motorbike was purely incidental, but whoever parked it there had a great eye for composition.
GREEN green GREEN green GREEN green GREEN green GREEN
In the bamboo forests of Anji’s Nine Dragon Valley the forest floor is soft with fallen leaves and the sunlight filters through the thick bamboo leaf canopy in patterned dapples. The air is moist and warm and lush, and inside the bamboo forest there is an overwhelming sense of green-ness.
The bamboo is marked close to the ground with the owner’s name and projected harvest date. 
WHITE white WHITE white WHITE white WHITE white
Kashgar is a city filled with strange and exotic sights and smells – the lure of the bazaar with its gold, silks and carpets, the veiled women, the daily call to prayer, and the intoxicating smells of smoke, spices and roasting lamb in front of the mosque. The faces are unfamiliar to me, but hold a history of this place where east and west once hinged. 

London, the Pink Lady Food Photography Awards, and AA Gill.

Here I am in London, and it’s been an exciting and whirlwind 36 hours since I touched down at Heathrow near midnight on Monday night. So what am I doing here, other than enjoying some very briskly cold and wet British April weather? 
You might remember in early March I was named as one of sixty or so finalists in the inaugural international Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year Awards, for not just one but three of my photographs. This was an enormously exciting honour for a passionate amateur like myself, and last night I attended the awards ceremony at the Mall Galleries in London. 
The quality of the final photographs was absolutely awe-inspiring and truly international, featuring some of the best professional food photographers alive today. I was very humbled to have been chosen from amongst more than three thousand entries from sixty-one countries around the world. Wow! 
To be amongst photographs of this standard was a joy in itself, but to my great surprise I was also named third in the category of ‘Food for Sale’ for the image below of fat-tailed sheep at the Sunday animal market in Kashgar. Woohoo!
What was even more inspiring to me though was the extraordinary level of excitement and support I’ve received from all of you readers and fellow food-lovers. I can’t thank you enough for the good wishes and congratulations you’ve sent by email, twitter and facebook, and it meant such a lot to me. You’re the people who inspire me to get out there every day and do what I love – find great food stories, write about them, and photograph them. So thank you all!
I do also need to give credit for the photos above to my sister – she lives in Scotland and joined me as my date for the night in London. She found it a bit stressful trying to take photos with an iPhone in a room full of photographers while also juggling a glass of champagne, which would explain the blurriness. 
All over the gallery photographers were handing their complicated cameras to their very non-photographer friends and families so they could be snapped next to their beautifully framed entries. I heard the same conversation quite a few times during the evening.
“Which button do I push? Is it this one?”
“No, that’s the ISO. Let me see the picture – Oh that’s terrible! Can you take another one? Try and get my head in the frame this time.”
“Which button is it again?”
“No! No! That activates the flash!”
We’re a difficult perfectionist bunch, aren’t we?
So here at last are my three finalist photographs:

‘Food for Sale’ – Fat-tailed Sheep, Kashgar
‘Food for Sale’ – Pigs’ Heads, Yunnan
‘Food in the Field’ – Sea of Spice, Taklamikan Desert

If you’d like to see the winning photographs, there’s an online article in today’s Guardian newspaper with a photo gallery of the winners and Pink Lady now has a gallery of all the finalist images including mine. I adored the winning photograph of black pigs foraging in long green grass by French food photographer Jean Cazals – breathtaking.
Later in the evening, as if the awards themselves weren’t enough excitement for one night, my sister had made a late reservation for dinner at The Wolseley in London. A gorgeous vaulted marble dining room next door to the Ritz Hotel in Piccadilly, The Wolseley was originally the Wolseley Motors showroom in the 1920s and is now one of London’s most popular restaurants.
The Wolseley was chosen by my sister for its celebrity spotting potential, and the place didn’t disappoint. We’d only just walked in the door when she said –
“There’s Dale Winton”
“What? Who’s he?”
“On the telly. Camp.”
“Oh. Should I know who he is?” I asked, feeling like I could be living in a British pop culture vacuum in China.
“No, not really.”
It wasn’t the level of celebrity she’d promised, but no sooner had we ordered from the quirky brasserie menu (chopped liver? really?) than Twiggy sat down at the next table but one, looking gorgeous and elegant. 
“See?” said my sister, triumphantly.
I was more convinced now, and spent the rest of the entree course (crispy whitebait, sauce tartare, lemon) glancing furtively around the room for possible celebrities sitting in private corners.
That’s when I spotted him, over by the grand staircase arching gracefully to the upper floor – Dustin Hoffman. At least, in the low lighting and without my glasses I thought it was Dustin Hoffman. Increasingly convinced during main course and wine (Scottish salmon, broad beans and peas, mint, Chablis) I casually sauntered past his table on my way to the ladies’ room (down a perilously narrow spiral staircase to the basement). Imposter. Italian Dustin Hoffman look-alike with identical hair. Bugger.
We were just putting on our coats to leave when my sister whispered under her breath 
“Behind me. AA Gill.”
I looked in the general direction to see one of the world’s most famous food writers and critics looking old and grey, wearing a cardigan and hunched over his plate. 
“He’s looking old, isn’t he?” I said.
My sister glanced again. “No not the old geezer, you idiot! Behind him!”
And there he was. AA Gill, bow-tied and ramrod-backed with that instantly recognisable posture. Not looking old at all. 
What a great night.
The Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year Awards Exhibition continues until Sunday April 29th at The Mall Galleries, London. 
You can view the final images online at anytime here.
Prints of all the finalist photographs, including mine, are now available online. Printed by One Vision Imaging, Britain’s leading art photography printer, prices start at £11.40 and international shipping is available.

Yours Truly, Finalist in Food Photographer of the Year!

Well, this last week has been certifiably nuts. I had four different magazine deadlines, all on vastly different topics, such that my brain had switched itself permanently to ‘BING!’ even in the middle of the night, which was tiring and inconvenient. 
I would wake up with a brilliant idea about ‘A Weekend in Suzhou’ only to remember that I submitted that particular article the day before, and it would be really super helpful if my brain could now put that to rest and instead, come up with ideas for a funny column about living in Shanghai.
I spent a whole day wet, cold and very muddy photographing the lovely farmers I met in the last post. 
Then on Friday morning, unthinkably, I got an email informing me that I had been seleced as a finalist in an international food photography competition, The Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year. What?? Are they truly really serious?? Only ten minutes before the email arrived I tripped on the stair going into the kitchen while holding an armful of half-full cereal bowls, which all smashed to smithereens and left me bruised and covered in milk and bits of muesli. It was shaping up to be a bad day. And I still didn’t have any funny ideas for a column due in four hours’ time.
But apparently those Pink Lady people were very serious, choosing not one but three of my photos. (Clearly the competition was open to amateurs – me, as well as seasoned professionals, but we all competed together). I’ll say it again – What??! The final awards, and here’s the part where I just about dead dropped over, are in London. England. End of next month. 
Firstly, for those of you who have already heard this news via Twitter and Facebook, I want to say thanks a million trillion for your congratulations, messages of support, and good wishes. You’re all fabulous!
(PS  I’m not permitted to show the images that were chosen until after the finals.)