The photos on this page were taken during an August 1996 trip to the lovely town of Xiahe in Gansu, a province in the northwestern part of China.
Xiahe, a small one-street town in the middle of a harsh landscape, is an important pilgrimage site for Tibetan Buddhists.
I hadn’t planned on visiting the town, but I had read about it in a guidebook while visiting Lanzhou, the capital city of Gansu, and thought it would make for an interesting detour. It took several hours to get to Xiahe from Lanzhou by bus (but that was a slow bus—the trip should take around four hours by car).
My first impression after getting off of the bus was “Oh my God, it’s so cold!”
The county of Xiahe is around 3000 meters above sea level, so even during August, when we visited, temperatures fell below freezing (and most of the clothes I had packed were things like shorts and t-shirts). On wet days, there would be snow in the morning and freezing rain in the afternoon, leaving the roads and paths wet and muddy. On dry and warm days, loose top soil would blow around in the wind.
The hotel only had running hot water for half an hour a day, so if you weren’t back in your room by that time (or if the hot water supply had been already used up), you would only have frigid water to wash with. As a result after a few days there, I looked pretty much like everyone else in the town—my face ruddy from the wind and cold and my body bundled up in multiple layers of clothing, with the outer layer clothing covered with a thin coating of dirt.
I really liked Xiahe, but the environment and climate are unforgiving for the people living there. The area’s economy is based on farming, but the cold weather, lack of water, mountainous topography and loose topsoil mean that the little arable land that is there is tough to farm.
The following photos are of a group of migrant workers from Tibet. They were living in tents on the banks of the Daxia river, across from Labrang Monastery. They invited me over to try their food—curry potatoes.
The people we met in Xiahe were friendly, but communication was difficult. I was travelling with my wife-to-be, who was fluent in Putonghua, but many of the Tibetan people we met in Xiahe knew minimal, if any, Putonghua and could not write Chinese. However, that was nearly twenty-five years ago. I expect things will different today as most young and middle-aged adults nowadays will have had a formal education.
We hired a driver and took a trip out to the the Sangke Grasslands, where we rented horses and visited the home of the owner of the horses. He introduced us to his family and made us some tsampa—a Tibetan staple food consisting mainly of flour, yak butter tea and salt. The grasslands are a twenty-minute drive from the town, so you can also get there by cycling (some of the hotels have bicycle rental services).
We also met these monks. They were camped out in a field near our hotel and they would spend at least a few hours each day playing volleyball. We joined them for a a couple of games and had a brief chat later. They were from Tibet and were visiting Xiahe on a pilgrimage.
I was kind of surprised by their enthusiasm for volleyball as I had assumed monks would be more…er…meditative. I need to be more open-minded.
We met quite a few children, almost all of whom asked us to give them pencils. I am not sure if the pencils were for their own use at school or whether they served as a kind or currency among children. In any case, I was reminded of Zhang Yimou’s 1999 film Not One Less, which dealt with school life in an impoverished rural town. In that movie, blackboard chalk was treated as a precious, nigh-impossible-to-replace resource. We ended up giving away all of our pens and pencils except for one pen.
You should bear in mind, however, that at that time—much of China’s rural populace, especially the hinterlands of provinces like Gansu, lived in abject poverty. China has since implemented a long-term, anti-poverty campaign, which has since lifted several hundred million citizens out of poverty.
Unfortunately, the negatives for the following photo got exposed. However, I will still include the photo here as I like how the two girls did their best to have their own style.
Labrang Monastery, situated between the Chinese and Tibetan sections of the town, is one of the six great monasteries of the Gelug (Yellow Hat) sect. The monastery is the main site in town and it is spread out over several buildings such as the Grand Sutra Hall, Serkung and Gongtan Pagoda
Xiahe is the most important monastery town for Tibetan Buddhism outside of the Tibet Autonomous Region.
There is also a 3.5-kilometer-long pilgrim’s route of prayer wheels known as the Kora.
Sadly, between 1917 and 1929, the monastery was the site of massacres of Buddhist monks and other Tibetans by Hui Muslims led by Ma Qi. The monastery and its monks also suffered during the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s. During that period of turmoil, the monastery was closed, many buildings were destroyed or damaged and the monks were sent back to their villages to work. The buildings were later repaired or replaced, and the monastery re-opened in 1980. At present there are around 1,500 monks enrolled in the monastery.
Lanzhou & Xi’an
We also briefly visited Lanzhou, Xi’an and Beijing. You can see photos of those places in the online albums (the links are in the next section). The Beijing photos will be shown in another article and album.
I hope you enjoyed the photos. If you are interested in seeing them at higher resolution (e.g., 1840 x 1232), you can visit the online albums:
Venice, Italy is a fascinating and photogenic city. These are photos I took during a trip to in 2015.
Album 1: Venice (Main Album)
This is the main album that contains most of the photos.
The defining characteristic of Venice is its system of waterways. The main island sits in the middle of the Venetian lagoon, is bisected by the s-shaped Grand Canal and is criss-crossed with hundreds of small canals known as rii.
1.1 The Grand Canal
The view of the Grand Canal from a bridge called the Ponte dell’Accademia is especially stunning. There is the canal itself, the boats, the lovely buildings lined up on either side, the pale grey domes of the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute in the background and the Venetian lagoon in the distance.
Kyoto, Japan is one of the most photogenic cities I’ve visited. As the former capital city of Imperial Japan, it has a rich history; and with mountain ranges on three sides and a river bisecting the city, the scenery is also attractive.
Album 1: All Photos
I took nearly four hundred photos during two trips to the city, so I have I have divided the photos into different albums. If you want to see everything, click on the following photo or link.
This video features the 41st song in the Free Background Music Series and is the second video in my Travel Diary series.
(Updated: March 2022) The street art scene in Hong Kong is relatively new, but there are some great artists in the city and there are a now lots of places where you can see more beautiful artworks.
In different districts, different styles and formats of street art predominate. Let’s take a tour though several of these neighborhoods.
1. Mid-Autumn Art Jam (Ma On Shan)
The following gallery features street art pieces that were created during the moon festival in Hong Kong in 2012. Click on any of the below images to open the gallery slideshow.
Those works were on the side of a highway overpass. While taking these photos in 2013, I spoke to a woman who lived nearby and she told me that the pieces were done during the previous year’s Mid-Autumn Festival (at the very end of September). The location is well hidden, so the artists could work uninterrupted. Some of the visuals, such as the rabbit image, are related to the festival (according to Chinese legend, a rabbit lives on the moon with the moon goddess Chang’e. There were around 30 pieces (including wildstyle works) on the wall.
These street art pieces were eventually painted over by the Highways Department, but new works popped up. Here are two of the works there in 2016:
And here are some of the works from 2018:
You can view the entire set of over 200 photos in this series:
To view the following pictures in a slideshow, just click on any of the photos.
There is an alley one block to the west of the Mong Kok East MTR station that serves as a kind of ‘wall of fame’ and has lots of elaborate pieces in a variety of styles. It’s one of the few places where impromptu street art is generally left alone by the authorities. It is also home to a few homeless men who live in make shift cardboard shelters. Just around the corner is Argyle street, which is jam-packed with shoppers and tourists. It seems that there is an unspoken deal in place: ‘you can do what you want in this lane; just don’t take it outside’.
In recent years, the alley has become a popular Instagram spot. As it is such a popular location, the turnover rate for the artwork is high and beautiful pieces get tagged or painted over frequently. The photos in the gallery above were taken in 2012 and 2013 and those pieces have been gone for years. Here are newer pieces.
Some of the pieces have a local flavor.
Here are some of the more recent wildstyle works:
You will also find lots of stickers in the alley.
Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui are busy commercial and entertainment districts in Kowloon with things going on round the clock. It’s a challenge for graffiti artists to even find a blank wall yet alone work undetected. Thus, the art tends to be something that can be done in a hurry (tags, stickers or stencils) and is often done in dingy alleyways. There also tends to be a lot of crazy messages left on utility boxes and lampposts.
You can view the whole set of over 300 images in this series at a resolution of 2048 x 1365):
These street art photos were taken in Wanchai and Causeway Bay (perhaps the busiest shopping area on Hong Island). Because these are such busy areas, with things going on round the clock, the street art used to be done in a hurry, with paste-ups, stencils and tags are the most common forms of artwork. Here are some of the older works.
HKwalls (hkwalls.org) held its annual festival here in 2019, and the area now features more complex pieces. This festival is doing a great job at helping the local street art scene develop. It gives opportunities to local artists and brings in artists from overseas (who can provide inspiration).
Here are some more recent photos not featuring work from HKwalls 2019:
You can view the entire sets of photos in this series:
While walking through this mixed residential, industrial and commercial district in 2019, I was pleasantly surprised to see a lot of street art pieces on the walls and metal shutters of the businesses there. Most of these works had been added as part of a neighborhood revitalization effort. The art part of this project was entitled Freegate (自由閘).
You can view the entire sets of over 50 photos in this series:
Click on any of the below images to open the gallery slideshow.
The streets of the industrial areas of Kwun Tong, Ngau Tau Kok and (to a lesser extent) Kowloon Bay used to feature a lot of graffiti compared to other parts of Hong Kong. However, in the last few years, the area had been redeveloped, with office buildings replacing the old factory buildings. As a result, there is very little street art there now.
The street art in this photo gallery was spread out through the entire industrial part of the district. It took around four hours to take all the photographs. There seemed to be more stencil work and paste-ups (paper-based work that is done beforehand and then affixed to the wall) in this area of the city.
The photos in this set are featured in the following video:
Here is a more recent piece in Kowloon Bay:
You can view the entire set of photos in this series (over 140 images):
Due to a few art activities, there are now more street art pieces in Sham Shui Po and Nam Cheong. The following three murals were created for the Heart of Cyberpunk Festival by Design District Hong Kong in 2019 (ddHK).
The same organization, ddHK, commissioned the following mural by kristopherh in 2021.
As part of an urban beautification program, the Drainage Services Department commissioned this ornithology-themed mural by AXE Colours Hong Kong. The mural showcases some of Hong Kong’s native bird species.
Perhaps the first graffiti artist in Hong Kong was thee self-proclaimed Emperor of Kowloon Tsang Chou-choi (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsang_Tsou_Choi), who throughout the 1980s and 1990s painted messages in his distinctive Chinese calligraphy claiming that he was the rightful owner of the entire peninsula. At any one time, there were a few hundred of his messages spread around Kowloon. He tended to write on government owned walls and utility boxes, perhaps because he viewed the government as the thieves who stole his family’s land. He died in 2007, and towards the end of his life was considered an artist, with galleries curating exhibitions of his work. However, it took the government a while to realize that his graffiti was part of Hong Kong’s collective memory and by the time they took measure to preserve his work, only three pieces remained. These are now sealed in plastic (the easiest to view one is at the Star Ferry Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui). I took the following two pictures many years ago in Diamond Hill.
10. Street Art in Hong Kong: Kowloon City, Kowloon Tong & Cheung Sha Wan
You can find street art scattered in other areas of Kowloon as well. There is some in Kowloon City and quite a few pieces in Kowloon Tong, the latter of which are usually found on walls in the alleys between upscale condominium complexes. Other photos in this series were taken in Cheung Sha Wan, Lai King and Kowloon City.
Click on any of the below images to open the gallery slideshow.
You can view the entire set of photos in this series (over 150 images):
This gallery features works from around the Tai Wai, Fotan (where a lot of artists have set up studios in factory buildings), Ma On Shan Tai Po and Wu Kai Sha. These are the areas just north of Kowloon (on the other side of Lion Rock). Recently street art pieces have been popping up in Sai Kung, a seaside village popular for its seafood restaurants and cafés.
In the New Territories, you can often find graffiti on factory walls and near bike paths. Click on any picture to view the gallery as a slide show.
You can view the entire set of photos in this series (over 100 images)
In the past, I used to document pretty much everything I saw including tags, very basic throw-ups, very faded pieces, and close-ups. I’ve since removed a lot of those from the main albums and moved them in this Google Photos album: Miscellaneous Shots (300+ images).
13. Related Galleries
I also have a few street art galleries on my artjouer blog.