Photographers' Blog

China’s pint-sized snooker prodigy

Xuancheng, China

By Jianan Yu

My understanding of snooker starts with top world players such as China’s Ding Junhui, Britain’s Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O’Sullivan. But recently, a three-year-old Chinese player in Anhui province is capturing attention after a video of him playing showed up on the Internet. Some called him “Snooker Wonder Child”, others wrote, “Next O’Sullivan”. I wanted to find out how great this kid was.

GALLERY: THREE-YEAR-OLD SNOOKER STAR

Wang Wuka’s home is in a rural area on the edge of a small city. His father Wang Yin just turned 30, mainly supporting his family by selling miniature potted plants and tree trunks. Wang Yin’s favorite hobby is snooker, and he has a table at home. A few years ago, Wang met his wife Huang online. They soon got married and Huang gave birth to Wuka, or Kaka as he is called by his family.

“In the beginning, Kaka liked to crawl around on the pool table.” Wang Yin said. “When he was one year old, I made him a small cue and slowly taught him how to play pool on a smaller eight-ball table. When he reached two, he could hit nearly all the shots on the eight-ball table, therefore I started teaching him snooker.”

“I’m definitely surprised, I think he is gifted,” his father told me. Now days, Wuka keeps the following schedule: he gets up at 6 a.m., then practices for an hour; after breakfast, he practices from 8 to 10 a.m.; in the afternoon, he has another two-hour training session starting at 2:30 p.m.; and occasionally he has some extra training time in the evening.

During my interview with the Wang family, I could see that the father had great ambitions for Wuka. Still, Wuka is so small that he must stand on a 15-inch-high box to shoot. “Now, Kaka is still in the early stages, we (are) mainly working on his precision. The next step will (be) practicing positioning. I will sign him up for teenager snooker competitions, hoping he can be successful in the future,” Yin said. Wuka is just like any other three-year-old kid. He likes playing snooker, but he is also interested in other activities, and sometimes he complains during training.

The women of China’s workforce

Shanghai, China

By Aly Song

Sometimes a good story comes naturally.

As a follow-up to China’s mighty urbanization policy, I gained access to a huge construction site within a new residential development zone some 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Shanghai’s city center. My original plan was to photograph the lives of Chinese migrant workers at night. I imagined that they would probably go to some colorful places and do some interesting things after nightfall. But I was completely wrong – every day they went straight back to their dormitories, where they would eat, chat, play some poker, probably watch an outdoor movie once a month, and that’s it!

I was about to give up when I noticed that there were many women at the dormitories. I got curious so I asked other workers: “Your boss has no problem having wives living here too?” One of them replied: “They also work here at the construction site.” To be honest, I was very surprised because in my mind, construction work has always been a job for men.

From that moment, it was natural that I turned my camera to the female workers. I went up to them, introduced myself, and asked for their permission to document their lives for a couple of days. I was lucky that the women and their husbands were all very nice.

Documenting the wealth gap in China

Beijing, China

By Kim Kyung-hoon

Showing the great contrast between China’s rich and poor in photos should be simple. After all, both exist just a few blocks away from each other or sometimes in the same place in any city. A poor family rides a rusty tricycle as a shiny Ferrari passes by. Just around the corner from an expensive restaurant, poor migrant workers eat cheap meals and take naps on the street.

But trying to get people to agree to be photographed was much more difficult than I expected. In six months of roaming around Beijing, visiting places where the rich congregate, such as luxury brand fashion boutiques and cocktail parties at fashion shows and even a luxury car maker’s promotional event, I tried all sorts of things, hoping that someone would open up their lifestyle to my lens.

But no rich person welcomed me and my camera. No one invited me to record this growing reality in China. Perhaps some were afraid that news of their wealthy lifestyle might go viral. Rich Chinese have reason to be shy of the cameras and interviews. The country’s new leader, Xi Jinping, has told people to cut out displays of ostentation. Moreover, the spending habits of wealthy Chinese have often sparked the ire of China’s microbloggers.

The most wanted photograph in China

Jinan, China

By Carlos Barria

As the morning approached, reporters, photographers and cameramen from national and foreign media organizations gathered outside the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court to cover the final chapter in the trial of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai.

The stage for this story was Jinan, in the northeastern coastal province of Shandong. This story had all the elements of a great thriller: power, corruption, romance and murder. With no access to the courtroom itself, the foreign media and the general public relied on images provided by the court for glimpses of the trial. Also, for the first time China’s judicial system provided court transcripts, published on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.

The opportunities for photographing Bo Xilai stood at about zero. Authorities only allowed media to stake out the courthouse from a fenced area across the street, and even there we had to go through a security scan to get in. Some journalists complained that during the first morning of the trial police denied them movement in and out of this area to cover protests that were going on nearby.

Little angel Niuniu

Shanghai, China

By Aly Song

“Mom, can I touch the stuffed steamed bun? I won’t eat it, just touch.” Four-year-old Wang JiachengNiuniu, nicknamed Niuniu, said to his mother while desperately eager for a bite of the steamed bun stuffed with meat in front of him. Half a year ago, Niuniu was diagnosed with late stage neuroblastoma. Since then, he has undergone chemotherapy treatments which cause him to vomit constantly and make it almost impossible to eat anything, especially meat. Yan Hongyu, Niuniu’s mother, cast a bitter smile at her son’s naive request. She was still struggling to believe that her boy had to suffer such a great deal in his childhood.

GALLERY: A CHILD’S STRUGGLE

I came across Niuniu’s story while doing research to find a family for an in-depth picture story on China’s healthcare policy. Before I met them, I did some searches and found out there weren’t many treatments available in China for neuroblastoma, which is a neuroendocrine tumor arising from any neural crest element of the sympathetic nervous system. This cancer has a more successful treatment rate if the patient is less than two-years-old. But in Niuniu’s case, the risk is much higher. Nonetheless, Niuniu had surgery to remove the tumor. After that, he would have to completely rely on chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells.

Knowing the chances were slim, Niuniu’s parents committed to the treatment with 100% faith. Yan quit her job in Yancheng, Jiangsu province, and took her son to Shanghai for better medical services in early 2013. They rented a 10-square-meter small apartment near the hospital, and since then have been rushing between the two places. Niuniu’s father, who used to own a small company in Yancheng, recently sold the company in order to pay the bills. He was still taking some jobs in their hometown to make ends meet, but whenever he had a chance he would go to Shanghai to help his wife. “Nowadays, people just cannot afford to get sick” Yan said as she chatted with other patients’ relatives in the hospital. Before Niuniu fell ill, they were a happy upper-middle class family. But now the estimated cost for the entire treatment is over 300,000 yuan (48,991 USD), and the insurance can only cover as much as 80,000 yuan (13,064 USD). A huge financial burden, restless nights while taking care of Niuniu and mental anguish – none of this matters to Yan. “Nothing is worse than seeing my son suffer everyday,” Yan said. “I would rather myself being sick.”

Garbage recycling: Chinese style

Beijing, China

By Kim Kyung-Hoon

When I heard that the rate of recycling PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic bottles in China is almost 90%, I was surprised. Because I have noticed since moving to Beijing that the Chinese have no real concept of separating trash for recycling.

So, how do they accomplish it?

The first place I visited in tracking down the recycling process of PET bottles was Asia’s largest recycling factory, INCOM Resources Recovery in Beijing, which processes 50,000 tons of used PET bottles every year. In this factory, abandoned plastic bottles are transformed into clean PET plastic material for making new bottles. But what struck me the most was neither its automated machinery nor its huge piles of compressed plastic bottles stacked almost to the height of a two-story building. The more remarkable fact was that this high-end facility relies on thousands of garbage collectors rummaging through trash cans for more than one third of its supplies

The important role of this cheap labor in China’s recycling industry was apparent when I visited one of the estimated 20,000 small recycling depots on the outskirts of the capital. Different types of plastic garbage turned in by refuse collectors is sold to the recycling centers where it is converted into money after backbreaking work by the workers in the centers. Sitting next to the mountain of plastic bottles, the low-paid laborers are too busy to find time to breathe while removing labels from the bottles and separating them according to type of material.

China’s last armed village

Basha village, China

By Jason Lee

It took more than 12 hours by plane and long-distance bus to travel from Beijing to what is believed to be the last community authorized by the Chinese government to keep guns – the village of Basha. It is in Congjiang county, a grand mountainous area of Southwestern China. The village is a relatively mysterious place to most people, even in China, mainly because of its remoteness and poor economy.

Upon my arrival I noticed instantly one of its unique privileges – the marvelous natural scenery. I didn’t hear any gun shots at that moment, but I spontaneously set my cameras to silent mode, for fear of bothering the farmers working on the fields.

I decided to take a walk around Basha, an old ethnic Miao settlement with a population of over 2,200, like a tourist before getting onto my main assignment – to photograph the gun owners. I immediately fell in love with this village as it was so pristine and clean that it seemed to be from a completely different planet. I clearly remember the scene of the setting sun on a female cattle shepherd, sitting among fields and working on her embroidery, while a boundless view of the magnificent landscape extended beyond her.

A sheep with an artificial heart – or maybe not

Tianjin municipality, China

By Petar Kujundzic

I took a trip to the port city of Tianjin after China Central Television (CCTV) reported on a sheep with an artificial heart developed at TEDA International Cardiovascular Hospital. According to CCTV, the hospital recently unveiled a new artificial heart, which was implanted in a sheep two months ago. The sheep lived healthily for more than 62 days, a new record among similar experiments in the country.

This sounded like a very good reason to leave Beijing for a day and report about such an extraordinary achievement. Upon arrival we met the hospital’s administration director who told us that this was not really an artificial heart but a ventricular assistant device (VAD), which is basically a mechanical pump that’s used to support the heart’s function and blood flow in people who have weakened hearts. He didn’t know why CCTV had reported differently.

After being disappointed for a couple of minutes we decided not to go back empty-handed, so they took us to a low-rise building next to the hospital where the star of the experiment was located, a ram nicknamed Tianjiu (Everlasting). The three-year-old ram carried a VAD, which was designed by the hospital to enhance cardiac pumping by using magnetic suspension technologies from state-of-the-art aerospace science.

China’s easy riders

Qian Dao Lake, China

By Carlos Barria

“They’re not scared of you. They’re scared of what you represent to them.”
“Hey, man. All we represent to them, man, is somebody who needs a haircut.”
“Oh, no. What you represent to them is freedom.”

– from the movie Easy Rider

A girl arrives at the parking lot wearing tiny leather shorts and sits on the back of a bike with a horse power of more than 1,000 CC. Next to her a man gets ready to ride, wearing a skeleton mask. It’s more than a fashion show, it’s an extravaganza on two wheels along Chinese roads.

Last weekend, around 1,000 Harley Davidson enthusiasts from all over China met at the exclusive resort of Qian Dao Lake, in Zhejiang Province, southeast of Shanghai, to celebrate the 5th Harley Davidson National Rally in China, as part of the company’s 110-year anniversary.

Catastrophic lessons in a quake zone

Ya’an, Sichuan province, China

By Jason Lee

It was 8:02 am on April 20th, 2013, three weeks before the fifth anniversary of the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake which killed nearly 70,000 people, when another strong quake hit the city of Ya’an in the same province. More than 190 people died, 21 others are still missing, and more than 11,000 people have been injured.

I must admit when I first heard about the disaster, I was a little reluctant to cover it, hoping that this time it wouldn’t be very serious. The catastrophic images from five years ago were still lingering in my head. However, when the death toll started to climb, I quickly cleared my thoughts and got on the next flight to the quake zone.

I don’t want to use too many words to describe how much I overcame to get there because my difficulties mean nothing compared to every victim’s face I saw and every cry I heard on the way.

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