Current Works in Progress

Friday, May 18, 2012

Dongyang Photowalk Part Trois (that's three)

Welcome back for the third installment of my Dongyang photowalk. If you are just joining us, the first and second parts can be found here.

If you haven't been following along I'll fill you in quick. I went out with my camera into the wild, concrete jungle that is Dongyang, Zhejiang, China. I took pictures of things that interested me. I had to be extra-super-ninja-sneaky when taking candid shots of people because I'm pretty much the only white guy for 50km in any direction. Also... no wait, that's about it, I guess.

I include here another set of pictures that I like with even more of the snarky commentary you've come to expect. All of that after the break, just click through to see.

Here is a shot of two people who don't know each other sitting in adjacent booths at the coffee shop. I was playing around with framing here to muck around with reality a bit and possibly create a narrative where one didn't necessarily exist. I followed the standard composition advice of placing a prominent foreground object and framed both people at about the 1/3 mark from either side of the frame and wouldn't you know it looks pretty good.

I was trying to make it seem like a sort of  lonely, ships passing in the night sort of arrangement. I don't know how effectively that comes across, but it wasn't anywhere near the truth. The gentleman on the left was sharing his booth with his buddy who is having a nap just out of frame. They had been sitting there for about half an hour and both of them had been busily texting away on their phones. Neither of them said a single word to the other the whole time they were sitting there.

Let's meet for coffee so we can text people who aren't there rather than talking.

The lady on the right actually was sitting alone. She had bought a drink of some sort which she put down on the far side of the table from herself and then sat there watching videos on her phone for an hour or so.

People are weird.

The gentleman in the orange vest goes around collecting the trash from the trash bins all day. His job isn't as dirty as you might think as the trash bins are generally empty. I've personally never seen anyone using them. In Dongyang if you want to throw something away, the ground is right there.

As you can see, gambling of any kind is illegal in China. It is also a spectator sport, apparently.

Anyone who has ever been to a casino knows that the Chinese love to gamble. I think it's genetic. What's interesting to me is the ways in which it manifests - the kinds of games the Chinese find irresistible. There are three that I know of, but all Chinese gambling games follow one of two paths; complexity or simplicity.

Most people have seen mahjong being played, even if only in a kung fu movie. It's that game with the colorful tiles usually played on a square table with green felt.It is, at its heart, a rummy game. The players build tricks of tiles in runs and sets of at least three. Mahjong follows the path of complexity, but not in the play - the play is quite simple, actually.

Where it gets complicated is in the scoring. Different winning hands are scored differently, and to add flavor to the pot every hamlet and village with more than 8 people has its own set of rules regarding the scoring. If you ever want to make a Chinese woman smile, just agree to play her local variant of mahjong for money.

The other complicated game is played with cards and is simply called "cards". It is most similar to a game we used to play called asshole (AKA President, Kings, and about a bajillion other names), but again the Chinese version is an order of magnitude more complicated. In this instance it is actually the game play that has been muddied up as remembering the order of trumps and which cards are wild in which hands is almost impossible.

In both of these examples the player who remembers the complicated rules the best usually comes out on top.

The simple game is called, simply enough, "2 card". All players ante in, and are dealt two cards; one face up and one face down. There is a round of betting, then all players turn over their hole card. The player with the highest total card value wins the pot. Sometimes the players can look at their hole card, sometimes they can't.

I've seen tables of five or six chain smoking men go through 3 or 4 rounds of this game a minute with thousands of dollars (tens of thousands of yuan) changing hands over the course of an hour. This game is about as simple as it gets and the goal is simply to risk as much money as possible as quickly as possible.

The most popular of the three, though, is mahjong. Walk down any hutong in China of an evening and you won't be able to hear yourself think over the clack-clack of mahjong tiles and the swearing of little old ladies losing money to their neighbors.

But yes, gambling is illegal in China.

I thought I'd ask, is there anything you've always (or only just recently) wanted to know about China but had no one to ask? Did you hear something about Chinese culture (or dietary habits) that you found hard to believe and you'd like to check with a reliable source (it's probably true)? Here's your chance. Ask anything you like in the comments and I'll see what I can do to answer in a future blog post.

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