Central Meat Market, Yangshuo, China

Central Meat Market, Yangshuo, China

If you have a western concept of animal cruelty you will find these images extremely graphic and upsetting. Proceed at your own risk. 

I'm in China right now. Everyday something reminds me how little we in the west actually know about this remarkable place. Many of the things we think we know are simply incorrect. Or unclear. Or incomprehensible from our perspective.

One of the questions about this country I've heard again and again is, "Do the Chinese eat dogs and cats?"

This topic is taboo in the western world as our dogs and cats are regarded as beloved members of the family and the thought of harming them in any way fills us with horror. Because of this, when the question comes up with the Chinese it's usually with some controversy. I've heard many different answers from people both here and living abroad.

"No, that's horrible! We keep them as pets, like you."

"Some do, but I don't!"

"Only in some provinces do they do that."

"We have a special kind of dog for eating."

"It's tasty. You should try it."

I realize I run the risk of being accused of cultural insensitivity by publishing these images and sharing my point of view. The answer to the above question is yes, dogs and cats are consumed in this country. Most Chinese, particularly the growing urban middle class, are very much against it but the reality is that the meat is readily available. But why when there is so much high quality meat from more "conventional" sources available. China has endured numerous horrific famines throughout its history and perhaps this practice is a vestige from more difficult times. Or maybe not. The average Chinese lives on less than 3000 USD per year so could equally be for economic reasons. It's with such ambiguity that this topic is even discussed.

I suppose it's really not much worse than the industrial rearing and slaughter of the animals we deem culturally acceptable to eat in the west. The main difference being you can't walk into a slaughterhouse in Texas and see how the sausage is made whereas here the death of living things is much more present. The brutal reality of where food comes from is something many in China are confronted with in a way that we're simply unaccustomed to in our part of the world.

A TYPICAL MEAT MARKET IN GUANGXI PROVINCE:

In the beautiful mountain county of Yangshuo, Guangxi behind an unassuming entrance off the main road is the large central market. Here fresh vegetables from surrounding farms, fish and plants from the Li River, and local meat is sold.

The meat market is a large open arcade selling live animals, on-site killing and butchering, and various fresh cuts. Note meat sold in open markets in China is not refrigerated. 

Beyond these meat counters are stalls containing various livestock.

Food rabbits.

Hens crammed in a tiny cage.

You can pick out a bird and these folk will kill it, dress it, and chop it up for you. Now that's fresh chicken buddy!

Beyond the more pedestrian fare lies the real horror show. In the back of the building is an open room where live dogs and cats are killed, butchered, and their meat sold. Anyone walking by can clearly see what's going on. 

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Look in the bottom left corner of this image. 

Behind the pile of chopped up dog you'll notice stacks of crates holding live animals awaiting slaughter. I was chased off before I could get a better shot of them unfortunately. The dogs sold at this market are definitely not bred for consumption. They are strays; homeless, desperately sick, and now subjected to one last bit of bad luck in finding themselves in this awful place.

These cats are barely alive. Dehydrated, malnourished, diseased, and now dinner. I'm no expert but having seen the level of pollution in Chinese urban centers, no one should be eating any animal that's been surviving in these conditions.

If you're feeling peckish, you can even sample some of the cuisine right at the market. 

Many Chinese do keep family dogs and you see plenty of loved and well cared for animals here. 

After visiting here I began researching this topic extensively and started watching out for "香肉 xiāng ròu" or "Fragrant Meat" on menus throughout the country. Guangxi, the province in which the rural county of Yangshuo is in is actually famous for its dog meat consumption. The nearby town of Yulin is notorious for its annual Dog Meat Festival in observance of the summer solstice. Guangxi is one of China's several ethnic Autonomous Regions, home to the majority of the Zhuang people, China's most populous group behind the Han Chinese. While the inhabitants of this province, both Zhuang and Han, are well known for their love of "fragrant meat", this practice is by no means exclusive to this area. I've seen dog meat restaurants in at least 10 cities and towns between Hong Kong and Beijing. 

"Reality" is relative to the culture of the observer. I find myself unable to shy away no matter how much something like this conflicts with my own values. I hate to end on a judgmental note but strong opinions are occasionally unavoidable. I find the practice of consuming dogs and cats to be uncivilized and inhumane. My western conditioning won't let me get beyond the sympathy I see in a dog's smart eyes.

I'll never be able to look at a Chinese man ominously selling puppies on the street in the same way again!

Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong

Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong

An entire city neighborhood contained in one building

Kowloon Walled City was a bizarre urban phenomenon that existed in Hong Kong from 1898 until it’s demolition in 1993. Originally a Chinese military fort, unregulated construction within and on top of its walls resulted in essentially a vertical shanty town; 14 stories of haphazard, mostly windowless, airless units no bigger than 250 sq ft that 33,000 people called home. The population density for this relatively small area was a staggering 1,255,000 people per square kilometer. I first had images of this crazy place implanted in my brain in the early 90’s when I saw Greg Girard’s remarkable images in National Geographic magazine

copyright Greg Girard

copyright Greg Girard

copyright Greg Girard

The Walled City is long since gone but as I’ve been traveling the Hong Kong area, I’ve found what I would say is a little piece of it still in existence. At least in spirit. The infamous Chungking Mansions in the Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) district of Kowloon

When traveling alone I don’t require fancy accommodations so usually a clean, inexpensive guest house will do. When I was trying to figure out where to stay in HK I kept finding these ridiculously cheap hotels that made no mention of Chungking Mansions. Only in thoroughly reading reviews could it be ascertained that many of these hotels are in this huge, slightly dangerous building. A place where immigrants and backpackers share tiny rooms, no bigger than the spaces within the old Walled City. A place with a storied history of drugs, prostitution, and other unsavory aspects of society. I ended up finding a decent spot on AirBnB (which I've had overwhelmingly positive experiences on) but being a naturally curious person, one of the first things I did when I got here was seek out these “Mansion” to see what what it was all about. 

First, a Mansion in the Hong Kong sense is one of these.

In the background, a charming "mansion" looms over the city.

Most were built in the 60’s and have the typical aesthetic of this era which is in my opinion, architecturally hideous. Hardly any thought on actual design was put into high occupancy residential construction of this generation. Not exclusively in Asia, you'll also find a lot of examples of this in New York City as well. 

These buildings are massive, multi-story, mixed-use compounds usually the size of an entire city block. There are typically malls or arcades on the first two or three floors and hotels, hostels (licensed and illegal), and private residences in the rest of the building. In Hong Kong a legal rental does not require windows as long as air exhaust and air conditioning is provided. Because of this, living spaces are as tiny as they possibly can be to maximize occupants. Many of the apartments you find in mansions like this one are windowless cubicles with 7’ ceilings. 

A typical windowless room in a Mansion. Many in Chungking are dorm style with 6 or more people sharing around 200 sq ft.

CHUNGKING MANSIONS, TSIM TSA TSUI DISTRICT KOWLOON, HONG KONG:

The narrow alleys around the building, like the Walled City, contain their own microcosm of activity and commerce.

The main entrance to the building is patroled day and night by a group of men who try and hustle anyone and everyone coming into the building. They will make every attempt to get you into their tailor shop or sell you whatever illicit substance happens to be on the menu. 

Looking to make a quick buck.

Occasionally the cops show up if there are too many complaints. 

The main entrance opens up to a labyrinthine arcade of people and vendors. Beyond guesthouses and residences, it contains currency exchanges, tailors, curry houses, fruit stands, and small stalls selling everything from gold to fabrics to cell phones. 

Chungking Mansions is the permanent home to 4,000 people from HK’s various immigrant communities, South Asians and Africans from former British colonial holdings being the most apparent. This does no include any of the thousands of other visitors from around the world staying at one of hundreds of different "guesthouses" in the compound.

Honey, we should have stayed at the Holiday Inn!

The building is 17 stories high in 5 elevator blocks. As there is some crime, CCTV and security is everywhere. 

Note no 12th Floor! 

I found Chungking Mansions to be a fascinating, vibrant crossroads of humanity. It is really an entire city neighborhood contained in one building and I’ve never seen anything quite like it anywhere. I spent quite a bit of time here shooting and talking to people. There's definitely a shady element under the surface, many of the guys hanging out front are eager to sell hash, coke, or “something special" to anyone passing by. At the end of the day though most of the people residing here are just trying to get by, which I’d imagine is quite difficult in a city as expensive and overpopulated as Hong Kong.

For me this place is a reincarnation of Kowloon Walled City in a 21st Century context. Albeit one where at least people’s basic human right to oxygen (pumped-in or otherwise) and sanitation is legally protected. Now that I’ve spent some time in this city, I see how really only in Hong Kong could something like this exist. Chungking Mansions is truly unique.

All images acquired with Sony A7R, Voigtlander and Leica primes, processed in Lightroom 5 with VSCO Pack 5 Kodak Royal Gold 400 emulation.

Sabbatical

Traveling light. Deuter 50 Liter Pack, 13” MacBook Air, Sony A7R, Sony NEX-7, Voigtlander 21mm, Voigtlander 35m, Leica Summicron 50mm, Voigtlander 75mm, Leica Summicron 90mm

Traveling light. Deuter 50 Liter Pack, 13” MacBook Air, Sony A7R, Sony NEX-7, Voigtlander 21mm, Voigtlander 35m, Leica Summicron 50mm, Voigtlander 75mm, Leica Summicron 90mm

Sabbatical

I’m completely fried. I recently wrapped a long run in episodic television production completing three premium cable shows back to back. Professional camera people tend to be very high endurance. I’d say it’s prerequisite for dealing with the marathon hours and occasionally very stressful work conditions we’re subjected to. Long days are a great opportunity for improving your skill set and fattening your pocketbook but the inherent problem is that there’s typically no time left for anything else. That and eventually you’re going to burn out. Even the saltiest, most grizzled veterans in the business need a pause every now and again. So I’m taking some time off to reset; to travel and pursue my creative interests. I don’t predict I’ll be doing any technical writing from the road but I will be blogging / photo publishing whenever there’s a decent internet connection. 

Just touched down in Hong Kong. My phone isn’t working at all even though I’m supposed to have full international coverage. An immediate reminder to get used to inconveniences and technology failures as I'm sure it's only just beginning! Here we go.

Be watching the site!

 

Alexaremote

Alexaremote Control Unit and Transceivers for 2 Cameras

Alexaremote

Remotely access the Alexa's menus and functionality with this product.

I spent a few weeks with a two-camera Alexaremote kit courtesy of the developer, Balint Seres. One of my goals as a DIT is to accomplish as much in the camera as I can. If there are exposure issues, get it on the lens. Color temperature problems? Fix it in white balance. I prefer to leave as little to chance as possible and have the images come on in their own looking as "right" as possible. For the past few years I've been achieving this by using this device -

The Arri RCU-4, which is essentially the interface side of the Alexa camera detached. It allows full remote camera control but it happens over a bulky, finicky, expensive proprietary cable. I've been building this cable into my BNC looms but it requires a bit of extra muscle from whoever is cabling and it's delicate so prone to connection related problems. Yet still despite the inconveniences, it's allowed me to work the way I want to work. 

The Alexaremote accomplishes the same thing but over the air! (note the unit can also be "hardlined" to the camera with a simple ethernet cable)

Here I am interfacing with an Alexa camera, full control, completely wireless. 

Whereas with the RCU-4, one unit is required per camera, the Alexaremote can store and switch between up to 10 cameras! Switching between them is fast and seamless. Each camera requires it's own radio transceiver which plugs directly into the interface port which conveniently also provides power to the unit. 

The transceiver is unobtrusively velcroed to the top of the camera under the handle.

Getting the Alexaremote and the camera talking to each other is fairly simple and involves inputting the camera's IP Address into the unit. Note the Alexa will occasionally change its IP upon reboot so multiple addresses may need to be stored for a single camera.

Alexaremote Menu Demonstration 

The time I spent with the Alexaremote was positive. The setup was easy and unit responsive. It's construction is very solid so it should be able to take the inevitable beating. I was using it for hours on end with only two of the Sony NP type batteries and was surprised at how power efficient it is. In my experience the range was reliable 50-100 feet with it losing link more often at distances beyond that. I have heard of users putting higher gain antenna on the transceiver side to improve range. I was not able to test this myself.

Beyond access to the normal functionality of the Alexa, the remote has a unique Intervalometer feature that allows you to program timelapses and unusual increments into the camera. 

The Alexaremote is available for purchase now. Balint Seres can be contacted at info@alexaremote.com