Although I have always managed to get around France with my Petit Français using vital phrases Like Une bière, s’il vous plait? I have struggled to market my work in a sophisticated way in this lovely country. It is with great pleasure then that I can announce that I am joining the fabulous and friendly PictureTank Agency, who will hopefully be assisting me in the French arena and beyond. You can see some of my recent stories in further detail on their site.
The Sunday Telegraph magazine, Stella, published my short Story on China’s one Child policy yesterday. In case you missed it or would like to see or know a bit more ( and may even want to run the story in your magazine) have a look at any of the following :
“China In Our Hands”, A report on China’s One Child Policy! Words: Katy Regan Pictures: Louis Quail.
Since its introduction in 1978, the One Child Policy has come under great scrutiny, particularly by the West for human rights abuses and harrowing reports of mass sterilization and forced abortions have become commonplace. Whilst undoubtedly these still go on, what we found when we travelled across four provinces to interview one-child families was something unexpected: Yes, there are couples who will do anything to get round the policy, but acceptance of the policy was the norm, and even if people were eligible to have more, they only wanted one child: the poor welcomed the limit for economic reasons and the middle-classes saw it as a lifestyle choice.
The ‘one child story’ is topical right now: China’s Census, published in April this year, increased speculation in the Chinese media and abroad that a review of the one child policy was inevitable due to expected shortages of labour, an alarming increase in boy babies and concerns about the care of the elderly in a nation of only children. Secondly, as China’s amazing economic growth drives it to become the worlds first superpower, some are asking: Is there a link between a nation of highly educated, ambitious, competitive only children and its global ambitions?
We travelled across 4 provinces to photograph and interview some of the 1.4 billion Chinese to see the day to day reality for the families dealing with the legacy of chairman Mao’s One Child policy.
I Hope you enjoy the story and thank you for your time.
In April this year, I set off to China to complete a story on the one child policy. I went with my son and my son’s mother (we are not together but we get on well and we wanted our son to have a family holiday). Holiday is not the right word really. We were to complete an assignment for Stella magazine (Fergus Mum, Katy, is a journalist, that’s how we met); a travel story for at least two magazines, the deal was that we would also find time to be tourists with our child. It was not going to be a picnic, or really a holiday for that matter, but we hoped it would be a little adventure.
Did I mention we were also going to throw in four provinces, interview and photograph twelve families? Not really that relaxing then! We were also dealing with a child who is jet-lagged and desperate for fish fingers. In a country where there are virtually no English speakers ( even in the hotels) or even English signs. It was a challenge at times.
It worked though, we managed to have a great time, even though Fergus was jet lagged for a week…..We had to point to food in photographs quite often,( it’s hard to tell donkey from beef in a picture you know but then we thought it was about time Fergus expanded his diet) And he did. Duck was added, donkey maybe, and lots of other strange things of which I can’t tell you the names. Dim Sum in Hong Kong was a highlight, you get to choose food from waiters wheeling trollies of exotic delights. In Shandong, however, they eat pickled cabbage for breakfast – what’s that all about – and no coffee., would you believe it? This was an outlandish and hostile environment to be working in.
On the plus side they did have this great food concept called ‘hotpot’ where you pick and cook the food you want to eat on the table – for example lobster. Very often, restaurants were like an aquarium. This is a definite plus for two parents trying to entertain a six-year-old boy.
China, like the food, is a country of extremes. In a third world country where the average income is equivalent to that of the Republic of Namibia, who could imagine cities like Shenzhen? A commercial metropolis exploding from nowhere – twenty years ago it was a fishing port – Or Beijing where four lane superhighways and gleaming skyscrapers have almost erased all the history of an ancient city in the time it takes to decide that an ancient culture is almost irrelevant. (I think they were lucky to hang on to the Forbidden city and managed this only because of the economics of tourism.) Planning permission is not an obstacle for development in China.
It’s a ruthlessly pragmatic communist country where the bottom line is more brutal than in Wall Street. If the Americans put the $ into CAPITALI$M then the Chinese put the ¥ into MONE¥. Every thing has a price, its not surprising they are tipped to be the world’s next super power. I guess corporations are all mini dictatorships so when China embraced capitalism it had all the systems in place to be one vast, Chinese Corporation.
But in China there is always the antidote. An overnight and evocative train ride away from Shenzhen and you are in the rural province of Guangxi. Even though I had to pay every time I wanted to photograph a water buffalo around the ultra touristy Yangzhou, it was hard not be seduced by the amazing iconic mountain ranges along the River Li, and even bartering on the streets of this reassuringly quaint Chinese equivalent of Windermere was great fun.
Back on the river, we discovered that having a picture taken with a cormorant fisherman was also chargeable. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry really, the octogenarian even had his own business card but then in China, economic success is progress of a sort, why work all day to get a few fish when you can make £15 in two hours? Especially as there is no state pension. Still, how many British six year olds get to pose with a real life piece of Chinese history? The photo we have of Fergus on board the Cormorant fisherman’s raft, is one to treasure.
Down the road In Guilin though I was happy to part with my Yuan when I picked up some lovely Chinese paintings after a demonstration of this ancient art form in the museum, we even had a stamp carved with Fergus name on and Fergus taught the technique by a master artist, a personal highlight of the trip.
So there you are: China: ancient and modern, crass and cultured, rich and poor, communist and capitalist, and is a country where despite many similarities with western culture, is truly an exotic, mystical place, full of surprises.
In between all the touristy stuff above we did manage to complete the intended assignment, which I will publish in the next blog: ‘China in Our Hands’ a report on the One Child Policy. Fergus was my mini assistant, carrying my equipment, loading film and so forth. Ha! Was he heck, but he did play with the children and our ‘only’ child was a great ice breaker for all the families we met with their ‘only children’ so really very helpful.
I hope he will have fond memories of this trip, after all he got to see pandas, climb the Great Wall, meet a cormorant fisher man, bike along the river Li, catch minnows at Splendid China (a huge miniature recreation of all of china’s amazing sites )but maybe not quite as many as I would hope. After retuning he had a weekend with his grand parents pottering around the shores of North West Lancashire. “Dad” he said, “I had a great time in China, but I had a better time with nana and granddad.” Brilliant!
Well the house is still a work in progress but liveable in (Did I say it was almost finished in April? What a fool! )
It was a big project but still, I thought, you know, a couple of months and we’ll be having a housewarming. Sadly, this was not the case: (Note to self: when you are trying do everything yourself including a loft conversion it is likely you will run over expected completion date) . The point is, it’s been very distracting but now my time is (almost) my own again, so here I am, blogging and obviously photographing as I would choose to do were it not for a house that was falling around my ears . For those of you vaguely interest interested in this sort of thing here are some before and after’s:
You may or may not have noticed it has been a little bit quiet round this blog recently, the tumbleweed has been blowing across the key pad for a couple of months now. You can blame this on my new house. I have just brought a wreck of a house and it requires quite a lot of attention so please bare with me. The good news its almost finished and I have managed to organise a trip to China part travel but maybe a little bit of work will happen as well so watch closely. I will be in Hongkong, Shenzen Guilin and Beijing, leaving on the 11/4/11 back on the 5/5/11. More to follow….
Secrets of the Love Huts
A journalist friend of mine, Fiona MacGregor is writing a book about cultures where mainstream patriarchal views on woman are surprisingly subverted and something more refreshing is revealed, a kind of girl power if you will. She came across this tribe in Ratankeri called the Kreung tribe where the girls, on reaching adolescence have their own small houses or ‘love huts’ built for them by their family and are then given the opportunity to have boys stay over as part of their quest to find a husband.
This kind of sexual empowerment was intriguing, especially as no-one got called ‘slag’ or ’tart’ in the process. After a little wrangling with Marie-Claire I had myself booked on assignment to join Fiona in Phnom Penh and then on a bus to Ban Lung to do a study, working title “ The Secret of the Love Huts” .
Cambodia is very much a third world country and is still recovering from years of war not to mention the genocide years of Pol Pot. The people considering their history, are surprisingly open and lovely. There is a warmth and hospitality that completely belies the hardship they have been through. The roads don’t however belie the years of turmoil and the bus ride to Ban Lung takes 13 hours, for a large part along dirt roads where in some places a
four- wheel drive would have problems not to mention a full size cruising bus. On the plus side, riding on motorcycles through the jungle, after a burst of monsoon rain is great fun, if you can stay vertical.
Highlights of the trip include sleeping in hammocks and “hanging” with the very hospitable Kreung tribe members. Drinking rice wine ( vat of rice, fermented) with the tribal elder on a Saturday night is a refreshing alternative to my usual night out down the local. It was not completely dissimilar to my student days. The chief decides how much each of us has to drink and then we all follow, be it a pint or a half or a pint and half, yes you guessed right, drinking games in the jungle. That was unexpected. Low lights of the trip: eating beetles, even fried they are just too crunchy.
The Kreung lifestyle is a mixture of old and new. Their culture is being assaulted by the modern world at an increasingly vigorous pace. On one level nothing has changed, they get up before dawn, walk two hours to their farms and return at sunset 12 hours later. They hunt with bow and arrows and their sanitary system is a walk in the woods. Dish of the day is wild pig and vegetables cut from the jungle. On the other hand, there are motorcycles, mobile phones and TV and the teens are starting to resemble extras from MTV videos even though 10 years a go they were wearing traditional clothes.
You can’t help but notice a deep inner (and outer) beauty of the tribal folk. that I like to think comes from the simplicity of their life, the cynicism that comes from our modern world has not yet reached them. The stresses that come from such things as: trying to reach a human in customer service at British Gas; avoiding bank charges or hanging on to your job when your boss is an idiot does not concern them. I know however this is a fanciful notion, their life has its own much worse stress levels mainly in that there is no organised health care and often the wisest person in the village is the doctor.
For better or worse this culture, like many in the globe, is changing and changing fast. One of the most poignant pictures I took was this guy, merry on wood alcohol , dancing nostalgically to a tribal dance broadcast on TV. The clothes shown were traditional and the images shown representing a time that was only a decade old. Quite tragically ironic I thought. No time to talk in depth about the main story but the piece is out now in Marie Claire, Feb edition, 2011.
Its been published both in the UK and US editions and will be available in the US IPAD edition, You never know how much space you will get and sometimes the pictures can be squashed so if you want to see the whole thing with copy and space to breath please email me for a pdf: email@example.com
Fiona MacGregor is a writer and journalist specialising in gender issues, women’s lives, traditional cultures and wildlife stories. She is currently writing a book about powerful women in tribal and traditional cultures across the world. Editors or other media researchers interested in her work are welcome to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Its been a year since the Haiti earthquake and it looks like the aid agencies are still struggling to get the aid to where it counts. Unni Karunakara asks the question, quite rightly, in his Guardian article ‘Haiti: where aid failed’ Link to article
Why have at least 2,500 people died of cholera when there are about 12,000 NGOs in the country?
When I was out there in January I experienced something of this unexplainable lack of urgency. I came across an entire camp of 4000 Haitians who one month after the quake had still not received any meaningful aid, despite many attempts to attract attention. My own emails to highlight their plight fell on death ears and I couldn’t help wondering what it would take to get them the aid they needed. I’m sure they have received something now but whether it is enough I feel is doubtful. An investigation into the failings as well of the successes of the Haitian aid mission I’m sure would be very interesting as well as worthwhile.
In the meantime for those who do feel they want to help in some way it you might do worse than giving to a small Catholic Haitian charity I came across while I was out there, run by Connie an American and Alex, a Haitian. Alex is pictured on a sofa with a large crack in his house visible behind him. They are both genuine and passionate about their work, They have a specific remit. They are looking after Haitians in the district of Aquinn, Amongst other projects they they are looking for sponsors to help with the long term care of 24 earthquake orphans. and money to sponsor the education of Haitian School children http://www.hhelpingh.org. In their words:
“Thank you for caring about children in Haiti! You are a click away from giving a girl or boy in Haiti the chance of a lifetime — as a school sponsor. With your sponsorship gift of $65 a year for grades K through 8 and $100 a year for high school students, you’ll provide hope your child will never forget, and help that will last a lifetime. Your child will receive a school uniform, books, and an education for an entire year.”
You can sponsor a child right now by clicking the donate button :
I have just done this and it takes two minutes. You may want to review some of the portraits taken a year ago taken a year ago showing Haitians coping in the aftermath with enormous dignity.
This is a picture story really but the writing is worth a look, and I know its a late post but catching up slowly i promise.
It was a hectic few days driving to Northampton, South Wales and Cornwall in order to capture these great British Eccentrics at home in time for the magazine deadline. The tension being the vegetables had to be at their biggest but we still needed a lead time so the feature could run in conjunction with the main Giant Veg competition at Bath and West Show Ground on September the 5th. http://www.bathandwest.com/marshall-seeds-gardening-pavilion/169/.