Photographers' Blog

The bun myth

Cheung Chau, Hong Kong
By Bobby Yip

A baker poses with a bun with the Chinese characters "Ping An", meaning peaceful and safe, inside a bakery at Hong Kong's Cheung Chau island April 30, 2014, six days before the Bun Festival. Each bun is sold for HK$8 (US$1.02). The annual festival celebrates the islanders' deliverance from famine many centuries ago and is meant to placate ghosts and restless spirits.  REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Cheung Chau, or “Long Island”, with a population of around 30,000, is famous not only for its seafood and snacks, and as a small resort for local tourists, but most of all for its buns.

A couple walks along a beach at Hong Kong's Cheung Chau, or "Long Island", where the annual Bun Festival is held, April 28, 2014. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

The Bun Festival is the annual highlight of this former fishing village. Tens of thousands of visitors flock to attend the ritual, jamming the narrow streets of this quiet island.

What makes Cheung Chau’s bun special? The two Chinese characters stamped on it says it all: “Ping An”, meaning “peaceful” and “safe”. The $1 USD bun is in great demand not just during the festival but throughout the year. Initially, villagers made them to pray for safety from plague and pirates, who were active in the 18th century.

Residents string buns together to be put on a tower for a "bun-scrambling" competition outside a temple at Hong Kong's Cheung Chau island April 30, 2014, six days before the annual Bun Festival. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

“Put them in a cool and dry place or store them in the refrigerator, and they can be kept for a year. Steam the buns again and they will still taste good,” a baker said. Like other market driven businesses, the original pure flour buns are now available with different paste fillings. About 7,000 buns each day are made by one of the two main bakeries, a couple of weeks ahead of the festival, for the festival and for retail.

A worker eats a bun while building one of the three 50-feet-tall (15 meter) towers for a "bun scrambling" competition at Hong Kong's Cheung Chau island May 1, 2014, five days before the annual Bun Festival. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Even the organizers have no exact figure on the number of buns used during the four-day festival. There are three 50-foot-tall “bun mountains”, with buns to be distributed among residents at the end of the festival. There are several more mid-sized ones, and there are dozens of smaller ones made by local communities, with their names marked on the buns. I have counted the smaller ones, which have more than 200 buns each. On the cone-shaped bun mountains, the base is surrounded by more than 100 buns, and it goes up to nearly 100 rows of buns!

Where in Hong Kong is Mr. Snowden?

Hong Kong

By Bobby Yip

Hong Kong became the focus of the world’s media this week after Edward Snowden, a former contractor at the National Security Agency (NSA) who leaked classified NSA information, gave The Guardian newspaper an exclusive interview and then went to ground somewhere in the financial hub – a town more used to a focus on money-making matters.

With more than 6,000 people living in every square kilometer, Hong Kong is one of the most crowded cities in the world. After checking out of the Mira Hotel where he first stayed, the public has no idea where Snowden’s current “safe house” is. One magazine article even suggested Snowden head ‘offshore’ and hide on one of the island’s iconic “junks”.

After The Guardian’s world scoop, there were failed attempts to chase after Snowden or chase after the few journalists who had met him. As the media chased after images, still photos and TV footage of Snowden (The Guardian released a few of their own to the media) have bombarded citizens here: on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, on local websites supporting him, on banners displayed on the streets, in the hands of protesters, on transportation, in shopping malls, and outside the famous Chung King Mansion.

Coffin, sweet coffin

By Damir Sagolj

Just around the corner from where Blade Runner met Bruce Lee, in the neighborhood where Hong Kong’s millions are made, 24 people live their lives in coffins. They call it home – but they’re only 6 by 3 feet wooden boxes, nicknamed coffins and packed into a single room to make more money for the rich.


In a crazy chase for more dollars, landlords in the island city are building something unthinkable in the rest of the world – a beehive for people collected from the margins of society. Math is a rat; pitiless and brutal. Twenty-four times 1450 Hong Kong dollars a month is more than anyone would pay for this just over 500 square feet room.

Mister T, the only inhabitant of these coffin homes who did not want his picture taken (“I have a grown daughter, she would be ashamed”) calls it the bottom. After spending time in the States, with a few years behind bars, this is as low as it gets for him. He spits through broken front teeth, like the routine of a street gangster, and continues bitching about the life – “better than nothing, but not as good as the real life.”

Hong Kong’s National Day ferry disaster

By Tyrone Siu

When the National Day fireworks ended in enthusiastic applause, most photographers – especially those who were functioning on an empty stomach like me – thought we could finally call it a night. After all, we had witnessed all the hustle and bustle since early in the day at the flag-raising ceremony. It was, we thought, perhaps enough sensation for a single day.

I was about to enjoy a nice hotpot dinner with other battered journalists after filing my fireworks pictures, when a reporter on site mentioned a brief report online that ruined the plan.

It said that two ferries had collided off Hong Kong’s Lamma Island but did not mention any injuries, but a hunch told me it could turn out to be a particularly nasty disaster. A minute later, I was carrying my clumsy tripod to evade the happy festival-goers and run past the police’s quarantine line to search for a taxi.

My gay daughter for a dowry

By Bobby Yip

With a well-dressed attractive woman waiting to pose for me, I asked her to sit on the darker side of a classic sofa, trying to depict the situation she is facing — waiting for people to accept her status as a lesbian, the first among Hong Kong’s upper class to have a same-sex marriage.

Gigi Chao is a comparatively low-profile person among celebrities here. As the daughter of a tycoon playboy father and a divorced actress mother, she was followed by local paparazzi occasionally. Curious entertainment journalists finally broke the news of her getting married in Paris in April – to a woman.

It was not front page news, not until her outspoken father Cecil Chao Sze-tsung made a statement days later, offering a $65 million “marriage bounty” to any man who was able to win her love. Headlines were splashed in nearly all Chinese media, printed and online worldwide, as far as I could find. Foreign media around the world were not far behind local media in their interest.

Pearl of the orient; 15 years after the Handover

By Bobby Yip

Hong Kong celebrates its 15th anniversary since the handover to Chinese sovereignty from British rule on July 1, 2012. In the city’s King George V Memorial Park, a plaque from the colonial era is hidden behind the roots of a banyan tree. I found this to be a good symbol of the fading former colonial links to the territory’s past.

Bearing the romanticized phrase “Pearl of the Orient”, Hong Kong attracts visitors from around the world. Due to a fast growing economy, a flood of mainland Chinese visitors in recent years (including many big spenders) have boosted the city’s retail sales. In 2011, nearly 42 million visitors came to Hong Kong, about 64 percent of them from the mainland.


The “Forever Blooming Bauhinia” sculpture outside the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, a gift from the Chinese government in 1997, is one of the most popular tourist spots for mainlanders. To me, they enjoy a freedom of expression here without fear of political correctness. Under an immigration scheme, a few of might eventually settle in Hong Kong. With a good judicial system, low crime rate and a wide range of personal freedom, just to mention a few, becoming a Hong Kong citizen is a dream for many on the other side of the border.

A mother’s sacrifice

By Bobby Yip and Cheryl Ravelo


Like most of the domestic helpers from the Philippines, Imelda “Susan” Famadula smiles a lot. She has been working in Hong Kong for 15 years, waking early in the morning, dropping the kids off at school, going to the market, bringing the kids back, all along taking care of various household tasks which last until midnight, and for six days a week.

Imelda loves Sunday. She can meet friends in the city’s financial Central district, where bankers and office workers make way for domestic helpers. Imelda also goes to church, but most importantly, she is free to meet her family – via the Internet.

Every month she sends nearly all of her salary back to the Philippines for her family. Only once every two years does she manage to save enough to travel back to her hometown. “I may not go back this year, second year in a row, as my kid needs more money while studying in the university”, she said, still smiling.

Moments between isolation

By Bobby Yip

Those who have visited Hong Kong know how packed the buildings are, how busy the traffic is and how quickly people walk. When there was a global photo project on the world’s population reaching 7 billion, the first image that came to my mind was Mong Kok – one of the most crowded places in the world. The Guinness World Records lists Mong Kok as having a population density of 130,000 per square km or 340,000 per square mile.

Unlike the two high class shopping districts for tourists, Causeway Bay on the island side and Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon Peninsula, complete with world famous fashion brands, Mong Kok has a more authentic feel of the territory. Here you will find older residential buildings, smaller stores of all kinds with tags displaying cheaper prices. It’s packed with people on the pavements, crossing the streets and even sitting on the ground.

I tried to illustrate my feelings by showing many of those walking past, isolated; seeing what happened within a split second of this isolation.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A week in pictures 03 July 2011

A great news picture has to have the WOW factor and without a doubt the picture of the domb disposal expert being caught in a car bomb blast is amazing. What is even more amazing is that he lived.

A car bomb explodes as a member of a Thai bomb squad checks it in Narathiwat province, south of Bangkok July 1, 2011. The bomb planted by suspected insurgents wounded the squad member, police said.  REUTERS/Stringer 

This combination photo shows a car bomb exploding as a member of a Thai bomb squad checks it in Narathiwat province, south of Bangkok July 1, 2011. The bomb planted by suspected insurgents wounded the squad member, police said. REUTERS/Stringer 

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures, September 19, 2010

This week has seen a dramatic increase in violence and tension throughout much of the Asia region, and  the pictures on the wire reflect this mood. It seems that actions by not only nations, armed groups but individuals have all had a dramatic impact on the mood of the region. The weight of the news feels almost claustrophobic as I try to keep on top of what is happening.


U.S. Army soldiers from Delta Company, a part of Task Force 1-66 carry a wounded 7-year-old Afghan boy, a victim of a road side explosion, at their base near the village of Gul Kalacheh, Arghandab River valley, Kandahar province, September 18, 2010.  REUTERS/Oleg Popov

On the surface of it the parliament elections can only be good news for the people of Afghanistan, but 16 hours spent live blogging pictures with our team of 18 journalists, watching the minute by minute developments made me wonder about  the timing of this election as different groups tried to impose their influence on the outcome through violence and fraud.  Attacks by the Taliban killed 14 who were directly involved in the polling process. A radio commentator I was listening to assured his listeners that this death toll was part of normal daily life in Afghanistan and should not be seen to reflect election violence, I was not cheered by this. Oleg's picture above seems to bear this out; does it really matter what the motivation was behind the blast as the boy writhes in agony, his blood stained hands trembling and clawing at his bandaged head. If the election had not gone ahead would he still have been injured?  Even Masood's picture below of the election worker and the donkey struggling through the mountains seem to reflect the uphill battle the whole country has to face. Ink being washed off fingers so voters could vote and vote again; fraudulent voting cards printed and who knows what amount of ballot box stuffing will take place  before the final count is revealed late October; all of which seem to undermine the democratic process. Who wants to be ruled by leaders who have gained power through corruption - notably the only political point the Taliban make.

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