Monday, August 31, 2009

Ryan Pyle Blog: Poll "Prostitutes Trusted"


A recent online survey in China ranked Prostitutes as more trustworthy than Politicians. Without getting in to the nitty gritty, the least trusted category includes: real estate developers, agents, secretaries, entertainers and directors.

The article is pasted below.

Copy Write BBC World
Politicians were deemed less trustworthy than prostitutes

China's prostitutes are better-trusted than its politicians and scientists, according to an online survey published by Insight China magazine.

The survey found that 7.9% of respondents considered sex workers to be trustworthy, placing them third behind farmers and religious workers.

"A list like this is at the same time surprising and embarrassing," said an editorial in the state-run China Daily.
Politicians were far down the list, closer to scientists and teachers.
Insight China polled 3,376 Chinese citizens in June and July this year.

"The sex workers' unexpected prominence on this list of honour... is indeed unusual," said the China Daily editorial.

"At least [the scientists and officials] have not slid into the least credible category which consists of real estate developers, secretaries, agents, entertainers and directors," the editorial said.
Soldiers came in fourth place.

Ryan Pyle

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ryan Pyle Blog: China's Western Gold Rush


I had a gallery exhibition a few weeks back on Chinese Turkistan, or China's remote Western Xinjiang province. The area is dotted with oil, mineral reserves and some of the most beautiful natural beauty of any place I've ever been before.

Prior to the reception I gave a 30 minute lecture on the region and my work there. During that lecture someone in the audience asked me a great question: Why are Han Chinese migrants moving in such vast numbers to Xinjiang province and what kinds of work are they doing there?

The question was a good one and I responded with a few personal stories that I had come across: for example the man from Wenzhou who has lived in Korla for 10 years and started out selling refrigerators and is now a multi-millionaire selling drill bits to the oil companies. While that is an extreme example it is interesting to note that the trickle down effect of China opening up the province of Xinjiang is mostly benefiting the Chinese migrants who move west to set up shop. And migrants have been moving west for decades. Andrew Jacobs of the New York Times writes a great piece about the town of Shihezi, an almost entirely Han city. Andrew's story is below:

Copy Write: New York Times
August 7, 2009
Migrants to China’s West Bask in Prosperity

SHIHEZI, China — They marched through the streets of Beijing, Shanghai and countless small towns propelled by patriotic cheers and thumping drums. It was 1956, and Mao Zedong was calling on China’s youth to “open up the west,” the vast borderland known as Xinjiang that for centuries had defied subjugation.

After a monthlong journey by train and open-air truck, thousands arrived at this Gobi Desert army outpost to find that the factory jobs, hot baths and telephones in every house were nothing but empty promises to lure them to a faraway land.

“We lived in holes in the ground, and all we did night and day was hard labor,” recalled Han Zuxue, a sun-creased 72-year-old who was a teenager when he left his home in eastern Henan Province. “At first we cried every day but over time we forgot our sadness.”

More than five decades of toil later, men and women like Mr. Han have helped transform Shihezi into a tree-shaded, bustling oasis whose canned tomatoes, fiery grain alcohol and enormous cotton yields are famous throughout China.

This city of 650,000 is a showcase of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a uniquely Chinese conglomerate of farms and factories that were created by decommissioned Red Army soldiers at the end of the civil war.

“Put your weapons aside and pick up the tools of construction,” one popular slogan went. “Develop Xinjiang, defend the nation’s borders and protect social stability.”

With a total population of 2.6 million, 95 percent of it ethnic Han Chinese, Shihezi and a string of other settlements created by the military are stable strongholds in a region whose majority non-Han populace has often been unhappy under Beijing’s rule. Last month, that discontent showed itself during vicious ethnic rioting that claimed 197 lives in Urumqi, the regional capital, which is a two-hour drive away.

The government says that most of the dead were Han Chinese bludgeoned by mobs of Uighurs, Muslims of Turkish ancestry whose presence in Xinjiang has been steadily diluted by migration from China’s densely populated east.

“Ever since we arrived they’ve resented us and had no appreciation for how we’ve improved this place,” said He Zhenjie, 76, who has spent his adult life leveling sand dunes, planting trees and digging irrigation ditches. “But we’re here to stay. The Uighurs will never wrest Xinjiang away.”

Even if many Uighurs view the settlers as nothing more than Chinese colonists, many Chinese consider the bingtuan, meaning soldier corps, a major success. In one fell swoop Mao deployed 200,000 idle soldiers to help develop and occupy a resource-rich, politically strategic region bordering India, Mongolia and the Soviet Union, a onetime ally turned menace.

Shihezi and other bingtuan settlements quickly became self-sufficient, a relief to a government lacking resources, and its “reclamation warriors” worked without pay those first few years, steadily turning thousands of acres of inhospitable scrubland into some of the country’s most fertile terrain.

With an annual output of goods and services of $7 billion, the settlements run by the bingtuan include five cities, 180 farming communities and 1,000 companies. They also report directly to Beijing and run their own courts, colleges and newspapers.

“During peaceful times, they are a force for development, but if anything urgent happens, they will step out and maintain social stability and combat the separatists,” said Li Sheng, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and a former bingtuan member who writes about the region’s history.

In those early years, the ranks of the bingtuan were fortified by petty criminals, former prisoners of war, prostitutes and intellectuals, all sent west for “re-education.” During the mid-1950s, 40,000 young women were lured to Xinjiang with promises of the good life: they arrived to discover their main purpose was to relieve the loneliness of the male pioneers and cement the region’s Han presence through their progeny.

Demographics have always been a tactical element of the campaign to pacify the region. In 1949, when the Communists declared the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, there were just 300,000 Han Chinese in Xinjiang. Today, the number of Han has grown to 7.5 million, just over 40 percent of the region’s population. The percentage of Uighurs has fallen to 45 percent, or about 8.3 million.

Their grievances have multiplied even as Xinjiang has grown more prosperous, thanks in part to its huge reserves of natural gas, oil and minerals. Many Uighurs complain about the repression of their Islamic faith, official policies that marginalize their language and a lack of job opportunities, especially at government bureaus and inside the bingtuan.

During a recent visit to Shihezi, armed paramilitary policemen stopped every car and bus entering the city. But only Uighurs were made to step out of vehicles for identification checks and searches.

Neatly laid out on a grid, its sidewalks graced by apple trees and elms, the city is populated by the sturdy and defiantly proud who think of Xinjiang as China’s version of Manifest Destiny, the doctrine undergirding the westward expansion of the United States in the 19th century. But just beneath the self-satisfaction runs a deep vein of bitterness, especially among those who arrived in the 1950s and 1960s.

“I thought I was going to be a nurse, but I ended up sweeping the streets and cleaning toilets,” said Yue Caiying, who moved here in 1963, and, like many of those with an education, was forced to set aside personal ambition.

Lu Yiping, an author who spent five years interviewing women trucked into Xinjiang from Hunan Province, tells of girls lured with promises of Russian-language classes and textile-mill jobs. In an interview published online, he told the story of arriving women greeted by Wang Zhen, the famously hard-line general who helped tame the region. “Comrades, you must prepare to bury your bones in Xinjiang,” he quoted Mr. Wang as telling the women.

Still, for many early settlers, Xinjiang offered an escape from the deprivation that stalked many rural areas between 1959 and 1962, when Mao’s disastrous attempt to start up China’s industrialization led to famine that killed millions.

Early settlers like Ma Xianwu, who arrived here in 1951 and helped dig the first thatch-covered pits that served as shelter, offer a typical mix of conflicted emotions. He expressed wonder at the city he had helped create, but also sorrow over the hardship he and others had endured.

“People would lose ears and toes to frostbite,” said Mr. Ma, who is 94 and nearly toothless.

But any sense of bitterness has faded. “We were serving the motherland,” he said, waving off the adulation of a visitor. “The glory belongs to the party. I’m just one drop of water in the ocean.”

Ryan Pyle

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ryan Pyle Blog: A Foreign University Teacher in Xinjiang


Over the years I've always been interested in learning as much as humanly possible about Xinjiang, and a while back a good friend of mine passed along this first person account of a foreigner named Tim who spent some time teaching English at a University in Xinjiang. I always enjoy a first person account, I hope this makes an interesting read.

The original post can be found: HERE

In case that gets blocked I posted the article below:

Too late to talk about Xinjiang?

魏一帆 更新于2009年08月2日

I’ve wanted to write about Xinjiang and the aftermath of events because I lived there for several years. Despite trying several times, I have not written anything for a month. Many people have asked me over the past few weeks what I think really happened. They obviously have their doubts about the official version of events. So do I.

The issue of terrorism is an important one to address. The government maintains that the violence on July 5 was the result of an organized effort. Frankly, this seems dubious to me. Whether it is factual or not, the question of why would Uyghurs would want to do this remains. What conditions would lead to such violence?

I can only speak from my experience living and working there for several years. I only have stories to tell, some of which are based on hearsay. But they will give a sense of the frustrations in Xinjiang.

The day I arrived to teach at Xinjiang University, I noticed that none of the minorities wore traditional hats or veils. A student explained to me that it is not allowed. Nor are mustaches. He said if students are caught praying they face punishment, even expulsion. A fellow teacher confirmed this later.

One day a supervisor who was Han Chinese told me that Uyghurs have it very good because of preferential policies. They can have two children and it is easier to get into college. Later that week a Uyghur friend told me of a protest by Uyghur college graduates. He said none of them could find jobs and that the rate of unemployment is much higher than for Han Chinese.

One day I was teaching a group of seniors in college who were looking for jobs. One young man was frustrated because he said he encountered signs at a job fair that said: “Minorities need not apply.”

One day a Uyghur friend invited me to a traditional muslim banquet. I was the only non-Uyghur among several hundred. Drinking alcohol is not permitted in Islam but there was plenty of baijiu. Near the end of the night, one guest leaned over and said to me unconvincingly, “We are not supposed to do this but the Han make us [get drunk].”

One day I was teaching a class and asked, “What will Xinjiang be like in 50 years?” A Han Chinese girl raised her hand and answered, “All Uyghurs will finally be able to speak Chinese.” The government had just begun implementing a policy of Chinese only in all schools.

I answered: “It is very important for the development of Xinjiang for minorities to speak Chinese. It’s the only way to find good jobs. But what do you think will happen to the culture? Many of my Uyghur friends are worried that they will lose it. According to the research I am familiar with, there are better ways to implement this kind of language policy.” A Uyghur student behind her looked up at me with an expression of gratitude and awe. No one is allowed to point out weaknesses in government policy and get away with it except in a situation like this. I’m sure he had never heard that before.

For the past month I have censored myself because I did not want to criticize or even seem to criticize government actions in Xinjiang. I fear for my friends and my job. I’m also waiting for Southern Weekly to print more articles on the situation with interviews of people who can explain the situation more clearly and authoritatively than I can.

The only salient point I can make at this point is that while terrorism is a real danger, it tends to obscure the core issues. And as long as these issues go unresolved, the threat of violence will continue. Public discussion would help resolve these issues.

Perhaps my words are too late now that Xinjiang is largely out of the news cycle. But for my own peace of mind I need to write this. I have censored myself for the past month, contributing nothing to my column but editorial translations. This is because there is a culture of fear regarding Xinjiang which has caused me to keep quiet. This too is a kind of violence.

Ryan Pyle

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ryan Pyle Blog: Online Market Flourishes


I just wanted to write and make my blog followers aware of some new work that was included in the New York Times a few weeks back. It was about how a small community college in Yiwu, Zhejiang, China is running classes that trains kids how to be online entrepreneurs using Taobao, an Ebay-like online marketplace. The story focuses on Yang Fugang who is a graduate of the program and has since created a very successful business with his friends. China is a wild place and it's amazing how young folks throughout the country are embracing the internet and learning new ways to earn a living and create their own business. It's really an honor and a privilege to get to work on stories like this; the country is changing so quickly.

The New York Times story written by David Barboza is below:
Story Link: CLICK HERE
Copy Write New York Times
August 10, 2009
An Online Market Flourishes in China

YIWU, China — In the months leading up to his college graduation in June, Yang Fugang spent most of his days away from campus, managing an online store that sells cosmetics, shampoo and other goods he often buys from local factories.

Today, his store on — China’s fast-growing online shopping bazaar — has 14 employees, two warehouses and piles of cash.

“I never thought I could do this well,” said Mr. Yang, 23, who earned $75,000 last year. “I started out selling yoga mats and now I’m selling a lot of makeup and cosmetics. The profit margins are higher.”

Taobao fever has swept Mr. Yang’s school, Yiwu Industrial and Commercial College, where administrators say a quarter of its 8,800 students now operate a Taobao shop, often from a dorm room.

Across China, millions of others — recent college graduates, shopkeepers and retirees — are also using Taobao to sell clothes, mobile phones, toys and just about anything else they can find at neighborhood stores and wholesale markets or even smuggle out of factories.

Internet analysts say this booming marketplace — reminiscent of the early days of eBay, when Americans started emptying their attics for online auctions — has turned Taobao into China’s newest Internet darling.

Though just six years old, Taobao (Chinese for “to search for treasure”) already has 120 million registered users and 300 million product listings. Its merchants produced nearly $15 billion in sales last year.

The company claims that sales through its Web site are already larger than any Chinese retailer. And, Internet analysts say, sales on its site this year will surpass’s expected sales of about $19 billion.

“This is the next big segment for China’s Internet,” said Jason Brueschke, an Internet analyst at Citigroup in Hong Kong. “It’s their Amazon and eBay combined.”

Like eBay, Taobao does not sell anything itself; it simply matches buyers and sellers. It has a firm foothold in China because many parts of the country still have poor transportation and some local authorities favor their own government-owned outlets, making the retailing system inefficient.

The global recession also left once-booming factories overflowing with goods the rest of the world does not seem to want.

The so-called Taobao addicts are helping to pick up the slack in a sluggish economy. “I can’t live without Taobao,” said Zhang Kangni, a graduate student in Shanghai. “First, it’s cheaper. I found a dress at a store in Shanghai. It’s a Hong Kong brand that sells for $175. I found it on Taobao for $33.”

But skeptics ask: Can Taobao actually make a profit and emerge as a true Web powerhouse?

The company is not publicly traded and therefore does not disclose financial information, but listings are free on Taobao and the company makes no money from online transactions. Almost all Taobao’s $200 million in revenue comes from advertising, which the company says covers virtually all its operational costs.

The company has been criticized, however, for contributing to a flourishing trade in counterfeit goods. Taobao brushes aside such criticism, saying it has a new program that is effectively cracking down on counterfeits.

Company executives also say Taobao is poised to earn huge profits, but that their first priority is creating an online community.

“Our vision for Taobao is to build a consumer’s paradise, where people can shop online and have fun,” Jonathan Lu, Taobao’s president, said. “If you make the company better and better, profits will naturally follow.”

His confidence in Taobao’s future comes from the company’s lineage. It is a division of the Alibaba Group, which was founded by Jack Ma. In the past decade, Mr. Ma has created an Internet conglomerate with strong financial backing from Yahoo, Goldman Sachs and the Softbank Group of Japan. Yahoo owns about 40 percent of Alibaba. — the conglomerate’s flagship Web site — connects small businesses from around the world with Chinese exporters. does something similar for consumers who want to sell to other consumers.

When Taobao was founded in 2003, it appeared to have no chance. EBay and its Chinese partner, EachNet, controlled 90 percent of China’s online shopping. But Mr. Ma, a former English teacher, quickly undermined eBay’s fee-based service by offering free listings on Taobao, essentially giving away ads to anyone who wanted to sell.

At the time, eBay executives ridiculed the strategy, with many repeating that “free is not a business model.”

But almost immediately, the site took off, and in 2006, eBay pulled out of China, citing dwindling market share and large losses. Today, it is Taobao that commands 80 percent of China’s e-commerce market, according to iResearch.

“Taobao is dominant,” said Richard Ji, an Internet analyst at Morgan Stanley in Hong Kong. “They’re like an online Wal-Mart.” Mr. Ji says Taobao is a threat not only to traditional retailers but also to big Chinese Internet companies, like Baidu, a leading search engine, because they are competing with Taobao for many of the same advertisers.

Taobao has thrived, Internet analysts say, because people do not need much capital to start online stores. This year, Taobao says its site could help create half a million new jobs, mostly among young people opening new online stores.

Bao Yifen, a 23-year-old recent college graduate, opened her clothing shop with a $5,000 investment in 2007. Today, her Taobao store has sales of about $4,000 a month.

“Three times a week I go to the wholesale market,” Ms. Bao said. “It’s a huge market. About 70 to 80 percent of the stuff is factory leftovers. There are even some brands, but they just cut the labels off.”

Items smuggled into China from Hong Kong, Europe or the United States are also sold on Taobao, evading high import duties and enabling sellers to profit by undercutting the prices of merchandise in regular stores. An Apple MacBook Air that sells for $2,225 in Beijing, for instance, costs just $1,508 in Hong Kong, a difference of 33 percent.

Counterfeit goods are also readily available, even though Taobao claims to have removed two million “fake branded goods” from the site.

Nevertheless, many Taobao sellers acknowledge dealing in illegal goods.

“I work in an O.E.M. factory that produces laptops and electronic devices for Sony,” said one such seller, who identified himself Mr. Feng, referring to an original equipment manufacturer that produces goods for global companies. “We have Sony’s core technology and exactly the same raw materials and components, so we set up our own store selling netbooks and laptops on Taobao.”

A spokesman for Sony, Takashi Uehara, said the company had no comment but was looking into the matter.

Here in Yiwu, which claims to be the site of the world’s biggest wholesale market, Taobao has started to change the look of Yiwu Industrial and Commercial College.

The school’s vice dean, Jia Shaohua, points out an area designated as a start-up site for students seeking to get rich. He points to students taking orders by computer, packaging products, sorting inventory and taking photos of the items for display online, then adds, “Around the school now, there is a whole Taobao industrial chain.”

Every afternoon, even this summer, when the school should be relatively empty, one can hear the ripping sounds of tape being wrapped around boxes in a building that could pass for a United Parcel Service shipping terminal.

“The students don’t need a lot of money,” Mr. Jia said. “They just get orders and go find the items at local factories.”

Mr. Yang, the cosmetics seller, has become a campus hero. He operates his own warehouses a few miles from the school, in the basements of a pair of residential buildings.

Standing in his crowded warehouse, near boxes of Neutrogena sun block, hairpins, toothbrushes and a wide assortment of cosmetics, Mr. Yang says business could not be better.

“Soon, I’ll reach $150,000 a month in sales,” he said, flashing a big grin.

Ryan Pyle

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ryan Pyle Blog: Ami Vitale : Video Photography w/ Nikon D300S


Over the years I've had a lot of friends, and even some clients, ask me when I was going to make the switch to video. I usually replied with a stubborn "NEVER"!

But this Recent Video shot by Ami Vitale, an accomplished stills photographer, using the new Nikon DSLR D300S has left me wondering if there can really be a future for someone like me in the video world.

Let me first say that the video is stunning. Ami is a wonderful image maker and her composition and work with the video function are lovely. The Nikon D300S seems to be very capable of producing some very high quality video, whether it is better than the 5D MII is up to someone else to judge. I've had my MII's for more than half a year now and I've never even attempted to use the video function, which leads me to wonder...

Obviously Ami is sponsored by Nikon and they put up some big money to produce this 5m22s video. Not only did Ami most likely spend a few weeks shooting in India, some of the video was staged and the content that Ami produced was masterfully edited. Without being an expert in video, I can't even begin to imagine how many hours all that content took to review, edit and sync to music; can any videographers leave comments with just a hint or how long that might take, assuming you are already a master with software like Final Cut?

The point is that it is true, highly motivated, highly skilled photographers can make great video when they have the resources behind them and people to assist; especially for the very timely editing process. But is video really the future of our industry? Are magazines printed on paper really doomed?

While I don't really know the answers to any of the questions I've posed in this blog, all I can say is that I'm happily moving in the opposite direction. I'm shooting more film than ever before and producing more Black and White fine art and I have 3 gallery shows lined up for next year already. I think there is still a lot of power and emotion in the still image; and while the masters who came before us documented much, I still think there is a place for me to carve out a unique niche for myself.

And while I stand strongly behind my personal opinion, please don't assume that I take anything away from the wonderful video that Ami shot. She produced a video that was visually stunning; a cracking effort and a clear example of what is possible with resources at hand.

LINK to Ami's Video

Ryan Pyle

Friday, August 14, 2009

Ryan Pyle Blog: The Presidents Son


Some blogs make me giggle, others can bring tears to my eyes. This one falls somewhere in the middle. I just wanted to write a bit about how similar China's version of paternal capitalism is with that of the United States. In a BBC article earlier this week it was reported that Hu Jintao's son runs a company that makes airport security scanners. His company is knee-deep in Africa; and Namibia recently launched a bribery case against his firm.

When reading this I instantly thought of George Bush Senior and his son. George Bush Junior got in all kinds of trouble as a private business man in Texas before his father had lost his patience bailing him out of trouble and decided to help engineer his political career; and the rest is history.

But Hu Jintao's case is a little bit different. It is common knowledge in China that all the big political bosses in the Communist Party have children who are surprisingly capable business men and women; go figure. It seems that most of the top leaders have sons who run massive investment companies, property companies or in some cases even state-run energy companies. But the message that this sends to people in China does much more damage than the small bribery cases in Africa.

You see, China is desperately trying to clean itself up. Corruption is blatant and everywhere, and while top leaders in Beijing have cleaned themselves up considerably, they've just simply passed the buck (literally) on to their very powerful children; who oddly enough don't have any interest in politics as long as business is good. The message this sends to small county governors in the Chinese countryside is that if the big guys up top can get their cake and eat it to, then I'm going to do the same. And of course "the people" suffer.

Capitalism, or state run capitalism, is a killer without independent checks and balances, and China likes the balances tipped just the way they are. So is China's push to stamp out corruption real? Sure, but it is selective at best and corrupt at worse.

Last year during the Olympics I was losing my mind waiting in line ups at airports around China as bags were x-rayed after they were collected from the baggage claim, as an extra security measure. At least now I know why there were twice as many xray machines in the airports then most would need. You gotta spread the wealth. The BBC story is below.
Copywrite BBC
China firm in Namibia bribe claim

Nuctech is a leading supplier of airport security scanners. Namibia is investigating allegations of bribery over a government contract with a Chinese state-owned firm that has links to President Hu Jintao's son.

Namibia's anti-corruption commission said it would like to question Hu Haifeng, but that he was not a suspect. Hu Haifeng was president of the firm, Nuctech, until last year.

Nuctech is suspected of bribing a Namibian consultancy in connection with a $56m (£34m) deal to supply scanners to Namibia's ports and airports. The co-owners of consultancy Teko Trading, Teckla Lameck and Kongo Mokaxwa, and Nuctech's Africa representative Yang Fan, were arrested last week and are still in custody. Teko Trading is alleged to have received $13.2m from Nuctech.

The Chinese firm is a global leader in X-ray scanners and security devices. Hu Haifeng, 38, was president of the firm until last year when he was promoted to a post with Tsinghua Holdings, the group that controls Nuctech and a number of other companies.

Ryan Pyle

Monday, August 10, 2009

Ryan Pyle Blog: MeiliXue Mountain Trek on Resolve


A few months back I completed a grueling trek around a holy mountain in Southeastern Tibet. The work is unpublished which is why I've only left a teaser image from the series. No slide show at the moment. But a few week back this blog was published on the Livebooks Resolve Blog. I am now a regular contributor to the Livebooks Resolve Blog and I'll try to make everyone aware of new postings. Read the blog below.
A Short Walk in to Tibet
By: Ryan Pyle

For years I’ve been hiking in China, and just about anytime I can squeeze out a few free days I jump on a plane to Sichuan or Yunnan province, in Southwest China, for a bit of nature. I always shoot during my trips and have grown adept at both executing these treks and managing to come back with images that have the potential to become a published story. In other words I’m well versed in extreme altitude, extreme weather, and cameras.

So it was with utter delight that I took an assignment in June to document the religious mountain of Meilixue in Southeastern Tibet. The “holy mountain” is scared to Tibetan Buddhists and is home to a kora or “holy trek” that is ranked China’s most difficult trek by the China Mountaineering Association. Pilgrims make the trek around the holy mountain, a complete circumnavigation, and the process is said to cleanse the soul. Sitting in my apartment in Shanghai, it was difficult to contemplate a ten-day, 300-kilometer trek through Tibet. A series of questions began running through my mind: How was I supposed to walk 12 hours a day and still make strong images? Was there a road? Was there mobile phone access? Was there electricity?

My first decision was to shoot film -- digital just wasn't going to cut it for this trip. Not only would electricity be scarce, but extreme temperature fluctuations would further drain the batteries and potentially just be too tough for my Canon 5D MII’s. So I dusted off my Canon 1Ns and bought 200 rolls of Fuji Provia. Luckily I already had all the gear, clothes, and footwear needed to attempt such a journey, so I didn’t have to scramble at the last minute. Excitement was beginning to sink in.

A few days later, fear began to sink in, too. When I began my research in earnest, I was disturbed by how little information existed about this trek, including crucial details: the length of the trek, it’s difficulty, and possible villages along the route. I was able to dig up two resources: a China Trekking site compiled by a person who had obviously never trekked in his/her entire life and a travel website built by two German hikers who had done the trek about 3-4 years earlier.

The Germans had charted the kora (pilgrimage) as being somewhere in the region of 300 km (185 miles), meaning that I needed to cover roughly 15 to 20 miles a day to complete the trek in a reasonable amount of time. That meant I probably needed to sleep in a tent every night, cook my own food, walk for eight-to-ten hours a day -- at altitude -- while stopping as often as possible to document and record the journey. This was starting to sound like mission impossible. Did I mention that each day was a vertical assent or descent? And that there are three passes over 4,500 meters (15,000 feet)?

With gear sorted, and research done, I still needed to find a local guide. You never go wondering into Tibet without a Tibetan. And you never go climbing around on a mountain without someone who has been on that mountain since they were ten years old. In this part of the world, people die on the mountains -- the only safety you can count on is experience. Finding a guide proved to be difficult, and in the end I decided that I would find the right person in the village where I would start my journey. That was a potentially risky move, but like everywhere in the world, you can usually make things happen once you are on the ground. Half the time –- no matter how well organized you are –- everything changes once you are on location anyways.

My flight to Zhongdian, now named Shangri-la, was easy enough. Zhongdian is the first town on the Tibetan plateau in China’s Southwestern Yunnan province. I decided to fly in and rest there for two days; at 3,200 meters (10,500 feet) it would be an ideal place to acclimatize before making more aggressive moves into the mountains. Taking the time to acclimatize in this part of the world is as essential as remembering to bring film for your camera. Without spending the first day or two resting, you are setting yourself up for attitude sickness and possibly worse.

From there, getting to the mountains was easy enough and as the initial adrenaline rush gave way to reality, the trek revealed itself to be the most visually beautiful, emotionally rewarding, and physically and mentally challenging experience of my life. And all that was crammed into just nine days.

Without giving away too of a story that is not yet published, I can say that the Germans were wrong in their calculations -- the trek is around 400km (250 miles), when taking into account the switch backs and detours. That made for about thirty miles a day. My writing partner and I completed the journey in nine days and suffered some of the most extreme weather conditions I’ve witnessed in my decade of traveling in the region. We were rained on, snowed on, hailed on. On the last day, it was 25C (77F) when we woke up and -20C (-4F) just seven hours later, at 4,900 meters, with wind strong enough to knock you off your feet. I lost about twenty pounds in the process and gained a completely new respect for our Tibetan guides who floated effortlessly over high passes and across windy plateaus.

As far as the gear was concerned, the Northface tent, sleeping bags and jackets performed wonderfully, especially with violent temperature fluctuations. The Canon 1Ns held up beautifully in rain, snow, and sleet. The Fuji Provia was, as always, the right color film for the job. And after walking up and down mountains for ten hours a day in the remote Himalaya’s, I feel as though I could face down Michael Phelps, on dry land at least.

Ryan Pyle

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Ryan Pyle Blog: Final Reminder, Gallery Exhibition "Chinese Turkistan"


Bare with me, just a final reminder that my Chinese Turkistan show will run tomorrow. The show will be held at the newly renovated Dylan Ellis Gallery (DEG)

Dylan Ellis Gallery
42 Industrial Street,
Toronto, ON M4G 1Y9
Hours: M-f 9am to 5pm;
Sat. noon - 5pm, Sun. by Appointment

The opening time on Thursday night is 630pm, that's when I'll hold a Q&A and that will be followed by a reception from 7pm to 9pm. I'll also be at the gallery after the show on Friday August 7th and Saturday August 8th in case anyone would like to stop by and discuss the project. I'll also make myself available prior to the show should anyone be interested in learning more about the region of Chinese Turkistan and my inspiration behind the project. With the recent news of unrest in Urumqi I feel that it is really time to begin looking more closely at Xinjiang, and begin a serious dialog about the repercussions of such unrest. It's often considered a forgotten part of the world, but the people there are beginning to rise up and are very capable of challenging government authority.

In my eyes the project is timely and beginning to come together. I hope you'll have a chance to attend the show. The work will stay on display at the DEG for 2 months after August 6th. I hope there is a chance to meet up with each and every one of you at some stage. Follow the gallery website link above to view my bio and project summary as well as some of the images that will be displayed at the show.

I hope if you are in Toronto you'll have a chance to stop by.

Ryan Pyle