Photographers' Blog

Kids in camo

By Pichi Chuang

The Albert kindergarten and day care center in the central Taiwan city of Taichung is as joyful and vibrant as any other, with its colorful plastic slides and trampolines, but what makes it different is the children. From five to nine years old wearing camouflage uniforms they practice crawling and handstands on foam cushions in the front yard, copying the training of army special forces frogmen.

Principal Fong Yun said “I think most Taiwanese children lack confidence compared with kids from other countries.” Inspired by U.S. physical therapist Glenn Doman’s theories, 15 years ago she created a series of exercises that combine military drills and gymnastics, believing that they would help children develop physical and mental strength.

“All our children have had a hard time practicing the exercises. When they encounter obstacles in the course of their life, such as college entrance exams, job hunting, or even marriage, the experience they gain here by practicing very hard and finding a way to do it perfectly is very helpful,” said Fong, adding that the exercises help develop digestive systems and the brain’s language center as well as courage and strength.

The center offers hour-long training sessions every morning, and some kids even ask for more practice in the afternoons. The training is well-known around Taichung, and some parents are willing to drive over 30 minutes each day to take their children there. One father came to register his son, but the principal told him he would have to join an ever lengthening waiting list because the classes are so popular.

On a recent visit during summer vacation classes, several children were going through their routines, obviously enjoying themselves, performing one-handed side somersaults in the hallway during the 10 minute break between other classes.

The day I planked

I first heard about the Pujie Girls and planking while watching a local Taiwanese talk show that featured ongoing fads. Karren and Jinyu were on the show demonstrating to local university students how planking can be both fun and done safely.

I loved the photos and the idea of planking seemed very visually interesting to me; I had to find out more about it. After a bit of research online, I found that there was a whole community of underground plankers who posted their escapades via various social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

I added myself to the fanpage of the Pujie Girls on Facebook and introduced myself. I was hoping that they would contact me soon so that I could secure an interview session with the internet celebrities for Reuters.

Taiwan and China Cross Strait relations

Taiwan & China Cross Strait Relations from Nicky Loh on Vimeo.

When China-friendly Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou and his party took power in 2008, the main story for the island was how it’s historic and sometimes hostile ties would with improve the advent of this new leader.

It’s been almost 4 years since I first transferred to Taiwan from Singapore as a staff photographer covering various cross strait events and I realised that I had amassed a hefty collection of photos over the years to tell this story.

I began thinking about this Taiwan & China cross strait relations multimedia project because most of my assignments were spent covering historic events like the first direct flights between China and Taiwan. You see, before the deal was signed, if you wanted to fly to Beijing from Taipei, you had to fly to Hong Kong or Seoul first before flying into either side. A simple 4 hour flight became 8 hours.

Crawling for honor

The problem with covering military events in Taiwan is that they are conducted in a controlled environment where almost everything is staged for the media. However, sometimes I would like to see the true grit of army life and the side that is rarely seen in public. Being conscripted to the military myself in Singapore, I have witnessed how tough training can be in the army.

My quest to illustrate this in Taiwan was fulfilled when I negotiated exclusive access to cover the final stage of a nine-week intensive Amphibious Training Program for Taiwan Marine Corps titled “Road to Heaven”.

Taiwan Marines’ “Road to Heaven” test from Nicky Loh on Vimeo.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures January 23 2011

As India heads towards their Republic Day celebrations, Prime Minister Singh makes minor adjustments to his cabinet while outside on the streets people demonstrate over food and fuel price inflation and corruption. Adnan Abidi produces a great picture as a middle-aged demonstrator gets to feel the full force of a police water canon. In stark contrast, B Mathur gets a glimpse of the dress rehearsal of the full military parade planned to celebrate India's independence where the security forces are deployed in a somewhat different manner.  Danish Siddiqui added to the file this week with a well seen picture to illustrate a government spending initiative with a man pulling a pipe across a building site, the shadow creating an eye like image that almost seems to wink at the viewer.  

INDIA/

Police use water canons to disperse supporters of India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) during a protest in New Delhi January 18, 2011. Thousands of the supporters on Tuesday in New Delhi held a protest against a recent hike in petrol prices and high inflation. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

INDIA/

Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers ride their camels during the full dress rehearsal for the Republic Day parade in New Delhi January 23, 2011. India will celebrate its Republic Day on Wednesday. REUTERS/B Mathur

Drumming to the sound of a different beat

The Drumming Inmates from Taiwan from Nicky Loh on Vimeo.

While shooting this feature on prisoners trying to reform themselves through the art of traditional drumming, I was reminded of a question once posed to me by a lecturer when I was 18. Are all men inherently evil or is it society that makes them so?

Inmates perform a drum routine onstage with the U-Theatre group in Changhua, central Taiwan October 2, 2010. An arts program at Changhua Prison by the U-Theatre drumming group has given inmates a chance to perform annually for the public outside prison grounds. The project aims to give the inmates an opportunity to discover spiritual calm through drumming and meditation. The inmates wear masks or traditional facial paint to conceal their identities when they appear in public.   REUTERS/Nicky Loh

When I first met the inmates at the Changhua Prison to work on this feature, I was surprised to find the drum trainees, whose ages ranged from 18-25, well-mannered and soft spoken. Far from the dangerous criminals that I had etched in my mind. Rather, they were just men who were no different than I was. I felt guilty for having such exaggerated thoughts in the first place.

Inmates perform a drum routine onstage with the U-Theatre group in Changhua, central Taiwan October 2, 2010.  REUTERS/Nicky Loh

Hearing their stories during the interviews made me realize that they were basically boys whose lives took a turn in the wrong direction because of a lack of good guidance and peers. I count myself fortunate to have been able to grow up with a decent education and support from my friends and family.

The Yimin Festival: The search for the fattest pig

The Yimin Festival – The search for the fattest pig in Taiwan from Nicky Loh on Vimeo.

When I first arrived in Taiwan I made a checklist of odd things to cover. I shot numerous mass weddings, fights in the parliament and the enchanting sky lantern festival.

Wanting to complete my list, I did my research, marked down on my calendar and made it a point this year to cover the Hakka Yimin festival in Hsinchu where worshippers breed pigs to a fattened state for sacrifice.

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.

AFGHANISTAN/

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.

When images don’t happen, make them happen

A combination photograph shows tattooed women posing for photographs during the 2010 Taiwan International Tattoo Convention in Taipei July 31, 2010. REUTERS/Nicky Loh

Being a wire photographer, we often document things that are happening before our eyes. Sometimes these events happen so fast and we miss that one great picture or sometimes it may take 12 hours of waiting outside a courthouse to get that bread and butter shot to whet the appetite of newspaper clients.

The truth is that when wire photographers go out to shoot, we rarely have control over what happens during our assignments. We definitely cannot meddle with or control our subjects for the frame because that violates journalistic integrity.

Every now and then though, every news photographer wishes that the subject would do exactly what they have in mind for that particular shoot.

Gloves off for political brawl

Opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators scuffle with ruling Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators (top) at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei July 8, 2010. Taiwan legislators threw objects, splashed water and kicked one another on Thursday, sending two to the hospital in a brawl over how fast to ratify a trade pact with China that is shaping up as a pivotal election issue.   REUTERS/Nicky Loh

Legislators throwing objects, splashing water and kicking one another inside the parliament is probably one of the most interesting yet bizarre news events I’ve covered during my stint in Taiwan. Seeing grown men in suits going at each other like children, yelling and even laughing as if it was all sport, is not something you would expect to see every day.

In fact, everybody in the Taiwan media knew that the opposition DPP were going to clash with the ruling KMT party lawmakers. It was just a matter of how and when. A fellow local photographer told me that the fighting between the parties only happens when lawmakers need to send a message to the public through the media. You could even say that lawmakers act out violence to get some publicity from the media, though some of them really do get hurt in the process.

Opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators scuffle with ruling Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators (top) at the Legislative Yuan In Taipei July 8, 2010.    REUTERS/Nicky LohThe root reason for the fighting stems from tensions between the two biggest political parties in Taiwan – the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the ruling Nationalist (KMT) Party, which is headed by the China-friendly Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou. The cause of the brawl this time? Disagreements on how the recently signed Taiwan-China cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) should be reviewed.

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