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Friday, December 25, 2015

Traveling in CHINA Since 1985 by Robert Glenn Ketchum

Traveling in CHINA Since 1985 by Robert Glenn Ketchum

During the reign of Mao (1949-1976), China was a closed country. China in the 1980’s was 80% rural, with no outside visitors, particularly from the West. When China opened to travelers, the Chinese government placed severe limitations on who was allowed to enter the country. Earthwatch was one organization that allowed foreigners to visit China without going through too much red-tape. These photographs are a first glimpse into China in the mid-1980’s by world-renowned Conservation Photographer Robert Glenn Ketchum. 


Friday, December 25, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #163
CHINA #163:   Where once there were rural farming communes, there were now destination resorts. This is the lobby of the hotel in which we had lunch. You are looking at some corporate scale art here:  the carved marble on the wall clearly represents waves. That other "stuff" - the "little brown things" - those are individually carved fish on fine strings hanging from the ceiling in front of the wall. When doors open in various parts of the vast lobby, breezes cause the fish to change direction and "swim in schools." The meal was equally over-the-top. You can see many modern and exotic hotels and other architecture in two of my other blogs:  Shanghai - Oz of the Orient and Suzhou - 1985 to Present, so I will go no further here. In fact, I am ending this particular blog which I hope you have enjoyed, AND I am launching a new blog to replace this - not about China, but about the beginnings of my career. LIMEKILN CREEK:  Where It All Began will drop Tuesday afternoons beginning in 2016. The story starts with a drive home from the #MontereyPopFestival (@MontereyPopFest) in 1968 that includes a camping trip in the redwoods, and a life changing realization about myself and my work. It is a story about nature, photography, AND self-discovery. I hope you will follow the story.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou

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Friday, December 18, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #162
CHINA #162:   Hunger and the heat of the day finally overcame us and so we began our exit from the mansion. We would now continue on to one of the new hotels and lunch at the lakeshore. Walking back through the maze of garden paths, I took one that I hadn't already followed and just as I neared the outer wall and departure gate, this sign appeared in the midst of the nicely groomed hedges. Indeed!
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou

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Friday, December 11, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #161
CHINA #161:   I found this private development so immediately adjacent the historic #ZhoungyuanMansion a little disconcerting at first. It seemed strange, like it had compromised the historical building in some way, but the more I wandered around and observed the complex from the mansion windows and through their gates and walls, the more I realized that these units actually complimented the site and were designed to honor it’s architecture and gardens. Aside from the apartment numbers, most would never suspect these other buildings for what they were.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou

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Friday, December 4, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #160
CHINA #160:   With comments like that, it made the day seem all the more hot and humid and the small rooms became very close, so it was with some relief that I found an outside balcony just beyond the "treasure" room. It overlooked the compound and had a view toward the lake. It also was graced by a welcome breeze, and as I stood there enjoying it, I began to study the scene before me more carefully, and I suddenly realized that the compound seemed to be MUCH larger than I remembered with rooms and buildings I had never seen before wandering off through gardens and paths toward the shore. As I took in the details on these other structures, I also noticed two of them featured numbers above their doors. At that moment, Dr. He joined me on the balcony and I asked him about the buildings and their numbers. He replied that what I was looking at had nothing to do with the historic compound. What I viewed were very expensive condominiums, laid out and built to look like they were part of the historical mansion and it’s gardens, but inside they featured the most modern conveniences. Dr. He said that the condominium owners were “borrowing” the view and the cache of the historic site.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou

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Friday, November 27, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #159
CHINA #159:   Several new rooms had been opened including a very interesting kitchen. The bedrooms were beautiful, as before, however now signage was everywhere. As I pointed out in post #132, there must be something about tour guides and bedrooms. In my experience, guides often joke in a suggestive manner when a bedroom discussion is involved. While I was taking this image with my #iPhone, one of the beautiful “wandering” guides happened by and stopped to watch me make the shot. When I finished, she explained that to see the room I would need to go up the narrow stairs, and then she smiled and laughingly said, “there are 2 rooms, but (glancing at the sign) they could be the same.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #158
CHINA #158:   Eventually I did go through the front gate and enter the mansion. The ornate carvings above the inside gate were striking when I saw them on my first visit, BUT they were also stained by time and the elements. In this remodel, they had been meticulously cleaned and it allowed the figures to stand out with great relief. The carved door panels (post #130 & 131) were also clean and well preserved and the massive doors had been refinished and lacquered so the wear and tear I saw on them in my first visit had been nicely corrected. Similarly, the amazing ornate balcony carvings (post #129) had also been repainted, and many of the art pieces on the walls of the rooms now received good protective framing.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou

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Friday, November 13, 2015


Traveling in China Since 1985, #157
CHINA #157:   Having been through the #ZhuangyanMansion once before, I lingered in the front garden because it had been greatly increased in size, and now there was much to wander and observe. The fine bonsai in decorative pots were tucked everywhere. Floral hedges were blooming, and the fishpond actually had some golden carp swimming in it which were not there many years ago. With much attention and money spent on this particular historical renovation and it’s newly lovely gardens, the ”managers” of the property wanted to be sure the guests constrained their exuberance for it's beauty, using some classic Chinese signage. I found this along one of the paths.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou

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Friday, November 6, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #156
CHINA #156:   Just before the entrance gate to the #ZhuangyanMansion, there was a very traditional display involving #LakeTaihu “rocks”, a reflecting pool, and various plantings. In my travels throughout China, I've seen some SPECTACULAR examples of this. When I first visited #Dongshan and the mansion in 1986, however, there was no water in the reflecting pool, and all the vegetation was dead. Today, it is quite different and considerably more vibrant. Reflective of the entire garden and compound, all of the best assets of this historical mansion had been improved and upgraded as the “new” #China emerged. It was VERY nice to see, especially as I am a fan of gardens.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou

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Friday, October 30, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #155
CHINA #155:   Besides the orderly and colorful plantings of the garden, there were numerous large bonsai in decorative pots selectively placed all around, and in this case the azalea is blooming. The garden compound has also added a teahouse and bookstore (in the background). On this particular day, many people had come to enjoy the garden and have their lunch while seated at one of the many benches or pavilions now to be found scattered throughout the complex.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #154
CHINA #154:   This is my good friend (and long time translator and counsel), Dr. #He-Shanan standing with Director #ZhangMeifang with whom I have been collaborating to create my embroideries. We are now in the entrance garden of the #ZhuangyanMansion, and all I can say is WOW! On my visit here in 1986, there was hardly any garden at all, just some plants and a sad rock-water-bonsai display before you arrived at the “gate” of the mansion. Now there was a beautiful, meticulous garden that was so mature and lush it was hard to even see the mansion entrance. Modern sculpture had also been added to the garden, and the pathways and bridges all employed intricate designs.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou

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Friday, October 16, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #153
CHINA #153:   As with #Suzhou and #Shanghai, #Dongshan had modernized however it was still very rural in spite of the resorts, and farming was still practiced where the land could be found that was not commercially developed. Predictably there were more cars and scooters, yet I can’t say less bikes because we now have that crew in the previous post. Notably, everything is tidier, better kept, better swept, and much of it freshly painted. We were going to stop once again at the #ZhuangyanMansion before going on to the lake edge, and I was curious to see what, if anything, had changed there.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou

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Friday, October 9, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #152
CHINA #152:   Eventually we passed by the wall of billboards and had a view of #LakeTaihu. I could see gleaming speed boats motoring around, however the fish pens and old wooden boats had almost completely disappeared. Then we caught up with these critters. They must have read those billboards because they were in a hurry to get out to those resorts, have lunch, and drink. I was pretty sure these were not the lovely farmers I met so many years earlier in agricultural community. They did not look to be wearing farming clothes.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou

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Friday, October 2, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #151
CHINA #151:   LOTS of other things have changed since ’86. We are now driving in a comfortable air-conditioned car. The roadway is silk smooth with little-to-no farming traffic, and the landscape is covered with as many corporate buildings as farms. I have also forsaken my medium format #Pentax645 for an #iPhone that I am happily snapping away with through the car window. When I saw this billboard, I commented that the depicted hotel looked quite large, to which Dr. He responded, “Not really, there are much bigger ones. We will have lunch.”
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou

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Friday, September 25, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #150
CHINA #150:   In 1986, the road to #LakeTaihu was narrow, very rural, frequently dirt in sections and the drive took almost 3-hours. Although I went many other places, I didn't return to #Dongshan and Lake Taihu until 2011, when Zhang suggested we go there one hot afternoon and have lunch around the cooler lakeshore. She wanted me to see how it had changed. The drive out was on an expressway and took about 30-minutes to reach the visible shoreline! Problem was, it was hard to see the shore for all the billboards. And those billboards were talking about a “new” recreational community. Want to guess where that is?
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou

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Friday, September 18, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #149
CHINA #149:   As we crossed over the last canal bridge before returning to our car, I looked back once again at the boat culture that was basically the present support system for many of these farms, AND for the new developments. It was, indeed, a LAST view. It would be some years before I returned to #LakeTaihu after this visit, and I did not know it at the time, but I would NEVER see these again. Please continue to follow this blog though, because although this visit has ended, I am now going to bring you back 25-YEARS LATER! Stay tuned!
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou

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Friday, September 11, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #148
CHINA #148:   The old couple were generous with their time, and although he never said much, she spoke for him (LOL – little Chinese joke there). Eventually, though, we needed to return to the car and Suzhou. AS we walked back, the fields were abuzz with activity in the gentle, warm rain. As I walked, I began to more fully realize that this had proven to be a very interesting afternoon and opportunity. I would NEVER again see #LakeTaihu and the #Dongshan peninsula in such a state of agricultural idyll. In fact, I would seldom ever see farms this varied and integrated again. The “old style” villages would disappear, replaced by resort hotels and investment/vacation homes. The fish farm pens would give way to motorboats and water-skiers, and the agriculture that remained would become more “industrial” – monocultures grown in high production rotation using fertilizers and chemical insect repellents. The lovely pagoda, HOWEVER, would not only remain, it be would be beautifully refurbished.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou

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Friday, September 4, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #147
CHINA #147:   We found the elderly couple VERY busy in the garden directly in front of the home. She recognized our local colleague and began a conversation with him about who we were. When he explained that I was a well-known American photographer, she asked if I was going to make her garden famous in the US? She mentioned that the day was hectic because the rain meant a second planting was being done, and everyone was present to work while the favorable conditions lasted. Carey was toting a blue @Patagonia fleece jacket that looked similar in color to hers, which she noted because she was especially amused by the texture of the fleece.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou


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Friday, August 28, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #146
CHINA #146:   Our walk had meandered through the beds and plantings for a while, when we came upon the house seen as the center of the farm. Because the farm was prosperous, the home had recently been remodeled, and our colleague hoped we might find the elderly husband and wife somewhere about. They were considered leaders of the community, and were attributed as the gardeners whose agricultural planning and innovation was displayed in these fields. It was still raining, yet warm, and there many people coming out to tend the rows.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou


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Friday, August 21, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #145
CHINA #145:   Dr. He’s colleague explained to us that not only were the bed plantings intermixed intentionally for beneficial reasons, but that mulches and manures were applied in individual beds in differing ways. Careful control of water was also part of the design, and here you can see many channels running through this extremely varied section of the farm. In the lower right, cuttings are being used as mulch. And note that in the foreground water channels, cuttings have also been used to slow the flow of water, and create greater absorption.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou


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Friday, August 14, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #144
CHINA #144:   Dr. He met some colleagues who were walking with us and telling about this particular agricultural community. A light drizzle was falling as we made our way out into very beautiful fields. Here we see arrangements of plantings that were designed around similar water uses, and an intermix of species intended to limit insect predation (some plants keep bugs away from other plants which bugs like). Everything is edible! And, as I commented previously, you can see how orderly and well-kept these gardens were. (That is quite a nice, tall pagoda on the hilltop across the lake, as well!)
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou


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Friday, August 7, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #143
CHINA #143:   In the last post, perhaps you noticed our path was taking us toward this stone “shed,” part of the numerous structures spread throughout this farming community we had come to visit. The heat of the afternoon finally hit the point of humid rain, and a light drizzle was falling, enough to make everything wet. The water darkened and saturated the colors and tones of these stones, so allow me this photographic indulgence. BUT, also look carefully at this amazing stonework, ALL assembled without any mortar!
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou


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Friday, July 31, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #142
CHINA #142:   As we came over the orchard hillside, our descent brought us back down to the shore of #LakeTaihu and into a VERY lush agricultural "complex." ALL of the homes in this community were old school: random-brick-rock walls; tile roofs; compost piles; chickens; pigs; drying laundry; and, a small pond or two. The immediately notable difference here, as compared to similar areas I had previously visited, was that it was VERY clean and organized. It was apparent these families led lives similar to others in rural areas in terms of food and economic needs, but they had a very different way of operating. They were noticeable organized, and they had a less-litter aesthetic. It greatly enriched the “cared-for” look of the homes and fields.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou


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Friday, July 24, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #141
CHINA #141:   Our walk to the agricultural commune took us briefly uphill through some lush orchard terraces. Being ”up” in the tiniest breeze gave some relief to the heat of the day, and from a knoll, an opening in the trees allowed me to see the “future.” Small villages back in the valleys off of the lakeshore were expanding; newer houses; rebuilt houses; connected roads, and soon, internal plumbing, and reliable electricity. The question I had was what was the balance to be found so that food production would not be lost, this was clearly a rich and productive agricultural area.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou


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Friday, July 17, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #140
CHINA #140:   In 1986, there was virtually no industrial equipment in a rural agricultural area like #LakeTaihu, so EVERYTHING was done with hand labor. After these bricks were off-loaded and stacked by hand, they would be transported to their site of use by cart and carry. Many of these brick boatloads would also be carefully handset as the base of new roads that eventually wound themselves out into the neighboring hills. If this looks like hard work, remember it is also 95-degrees and shirt-soakingly humid.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou


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Friday, July 10, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #139
CHINA #139:   Incoming! So much for the rural idyll of #LakeTaihu! I would later come to appreciate that our visit was occurring at a very specific turning point for this ENTIRE landscape. The “historical” old fishing boats, the fishfarm pens, and the farm-style homes still dominated the view, but a more “industrial” boat was beginning to ply the waters. As you will see in the following posts, construction had begun that would determine a VERY different kind of usage for this area. These bricks were being brought in to create both buildings AND roads, and at the moment most of that development was very low profile. The New #China did not yet have vacation real estate homeowner-investors, destination resort hotels, or high-speed motorboats, but that was going to change. What, water-skiing on Lake Taihu behind a jet boat? That would be different! I hope there is a "no-wake" zone.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou


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Friday, July 3, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #138
CHINA #138:   In 1986, #LakeTaihu was a rural, and rather idyllic, quiet countryside. Surrounded by a few small villages, the shores were mostly agricultural fields, busy with farmers going about their daily chores. The lake had hundreds of small fish farms whose owners often lived nearby onshore, or quite literally, in boats tied up next to the fish pens. When boat traffic did ply the water, is was usually craft such as you see here, low profile and probably running on a sputtering single stroke engine. Many boats did not even have that and they were simply paddled or sailed. This is NOT #LakeHavasu at #EasterBreak. Well,..at least not yet!

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou


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Friday, June 26, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #137
CHINA #137:   While there were some pumps, and pipes, feeding the terraced gardens, and orchards, spread across the surrounding hills, during the mid-1980's there was no running water per se in most cities and villages in China. Nor was there any centralized sanitation. People drew their drinking, and washing, water directly from #LakeTaihu. In their homes the Chinese used ceramic pots to collect “night-soil” that was redistributed as fertilizer to the fields in the morning. On a side note, 1-gallon of water weighs about 8-pounds. That being said, you can imagine how heavy the two containers pictured here were when finally hoisted over this person’s shoulders to carry home. These people were working VERY hard, and all day long.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou

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Friday, June 19, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #136
CHINA #136:   The small village we had walked into on the shore of #LakeTaihu was primarily an agricultural commune that Dr. He had wanted me to see. Clearly we had come at a pivotal moment because all around us it was mostly terraced fields of crop trees and beautiful vegetable gardens kept in stunningly ordered care. Field workers/owners occupied themselves with planting and harvesting. And here you see someone carrying fresh picked greens to the canal that sheltered the boats. Notice the blue and black cloth visible behind his legs; he is also carrying laundry. While awaiting the picked harvest, he got some laundry done in the lake and now he is "drying" it. As you will soon see, however, this farming idyll would soon be transformed. Back at the boat canal, for all the food being shipped out to market, just as many boats were inbound bringing massive loads of brick and other construction material.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou

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Friday, June 12, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #135
CHINA #135:   I was in a heat and time-warp daze, but there was a breeze and more to come, so back into the car for a short drive to a very small farming community. We exited the car and began a walk that took us over a bridge, and into a busy rural construction zone. This community was growing and many new buildings were being constructed; the materials for which came-in by boat. Many of those on these boats lived on them. So after delivering their load, they tied-up amongst the other fishing skiffs and settled in to cook their meals, wash their clothes (in the lake), and sleep. It is worth noting in these last two posts, how limited the traffic on the lake is. THAT will change!
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #China #Suzhou

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Friday, June 5, 2015

Traveling in China Since 1985, #134
CHINA #134:   After visiting the #ZhuangyanMansion, we continued our journey to our intended destination, #LakeTaihu. It was the middle of the afternoon when we arrived, and the day just kept getting hotter, and more humid, as it wore on. With the windows down ,and the air circulating, it was bearable in the car, however anytime we stopped moving, everyone broke into a sweat. Dr. He assured us that once we reached the lake there would be a refreshing breeze to cool us a bit. The intense humidity had created a haze that nearly disappeared the sun. So when I caught the first glimpses of the lake, I thought I had stepped into a Chinese brush painting! Most of the color was washed out of the view, which had been reduced to a few subtle tones. There was limited traffic on the water, mainly fishermen in old traditional boats, wearing traditional clothing. I took quite a number of photographs, to everyone's amazement. Because Zhang and He did not think the conditions very good for picture-making, they finally asked what I was taking pictures of? I assured them I did have some good images. However I had no way of explaining to them how, by looking through my lens, I was traveling back through time....

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