Photography is about telling stories. It makes quite a lot of sense, then, that we – a group of Raffles Institution students – did more than just photograph the people of Beijing during our short, nine-day visit. By interacting and conversing with them, we tried to unearth what they had to say about life. This strategy was not new; following the footsteps of Brandon Stanton, photographer behind the Humans of New York project, people all around the world have taken up the camera to capture the life of the man on the street, and to hear his story and struggles.

It may seem a simple concept, but as you read, consider the possible different undercurrents of meaning. On one hand, it is a battle against prejudice, through this honest display of how we are all trying our best in a difficult world. Or maybe, it is a well of inspiration, for us to take courage from our fellow person’s triumph, while at the same time recognising the normalcy of failure and the human ability to rise above it. Most of all, it is a precious glimpse into the human condition – a rare, golden opportunity to grasp a better understanding of ourselves and our place in society.

We were worlds apart from the people featured in our photographs. The truth is, although we were of Chinese ethnicity and could speak Mandarin, there were many more barriers between us, such as culture and world-view. It was often difficult to approach a stranger and request for a picture to be taken, let alone to ask him important questions related to life. Yet, it is testament to the very idea of common human nature that somehow, we were still able to reach out to those most different from us; somehow, both the old man with his granddaughter in a Chinese village and a student from Singapore could not help smiling at the little girl playing in the street; somehow, through this, both gained a sense of connection and being. For photography is about telling stories, and as you listen to the stories in this book, we hope you will share our story of peoples in China – it is a story of humans, a story of hope, a story of love.

– Yeo Jun Wei, 17S03B


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我们在池旁发现了一对母女,小女孩在水边玩乐着,表现出一个天 真无辜的表情。通过母亲的允许,我们开始为她的女儿拍照。当她 发现我们在拍她时,她开始贴着母亲不放。

‘她叫什么名字?’

‘小夏。‘

‘她平常有那么害羞吗?’

(微笑)

We were walking by the pond when we saw a mother and her daughter; the daughter was playing with the water with a look of pure innocence. We approached the mother and asked for permission to take their photos, but she said not to take her photo but her daughter’s. As the little girl noticed our cameras, she became shy and started to hide behind her mother.

‘What’s her name?’

‘Xiao Xia.’

‘What does it mean?’

’Little Summer.’

‘Is she very shy?’

(laughs)

– 梁宇凡 Neo Yu Fan, 17S03K / 许展维 Hee Zhan Wei, 17S03O


 

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他的名字叫陈少楠, 今年十六岁, 他正在读高中,学校离艺术村大概两 个小时。为了节约时间, 上学时选 择住在宿舍。 他还未想好他的理想, 也认为学习压力大。因为他家人在艺 术村里做生意, 他回到这儿度假, 九月份才回去上学。他空闲时喜欢玩 电脑游戏,喜欢在附近的篮球场上和 伙伴打篮球。他养了两只狗,据他们 说,一个人养狗,必然会有一颗善良 的心。

Just like us, he is 16 years old and is currently studiously pursuing his studies in a boarding school in Henan, a two hour trip from Beijing. He laments that his school life is harshly competitive, but commented that the competition is felt more strongly in Hebei, where he finished high school. Due to the summer holidays that unfortunately ends in two weeks, he has come to Beijing to help his father run his advertising business. In his spare time, he prefers gaming online and playing a few matches of basketball in a court nearby. It is said by his father that owning a dog is a reflection of the purity of the owner’s heart, a common idea held by many households in Beijing.

– 张轩铭 Teoh Xuan Min, 17A01B / 李晟 Clarence Lee Sheng, 17S06D


 

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‘你每天工作几个小时?’

‘十二个小时。’

‘在这里站多久了?’

‘从早上七点。’

‘下雨时一样站?’

‘下雨也一样站在这儿。’

他从早到晚站在一把大雨伞下,汗流浃背。旅客和其他 员工一样都对他不理不睬。他的工作不像军人和警察一 样辉煌,但一样要辛苦地工作。他的薪水不高,也不受 社会的尊敬,大多数的人都不理睬他。他仍然勤劳地工 作。我们的问题尽管 有多无聊,他还是愿意帮助这两个 陌生的青少年,让我们拍他的照片。

这无声无形的保安是这整个地方唯一愿意和我们沟通的 人。在这办公楼中,其他的员工都有东西要做,都有地 方要去。看来跟两个十六岁交流会浪费他们宝贵的时间。

‘How many hours do you work a day’

‘12’

‘How long do you stand here for?’

‘I start at 7 in the morning’

‘Even when it rains?’

‘Even when it rains’

He stands under the umbrella from dawn to dusk, sweating in his tie and beret. Visitors and employees walk by and shun him. His job is less glorious than a policeman or soldier, but he bears the weather as long as he is on duty. He is paid lowly and seldom listened to, or even noticed. Yet he protects three vast complexes, and the people within. He answers our questions no matter how trivial, and agrees to help some 16-year-old kids asking for a photo.

The silent and invisible protector of SOHO T3 is the only person who speaks with us in the entire complex. Most of the others have more important jobs to do than speak to a pair of 16-year-olds with cameras. Apparently it would take too much time.

– 陈宇傑 Ryan Tan Yu Kit / 蔡伟俊 Shawn Chua Wei Jun


 

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‘我太丑。’

起初,她只是害羞地与我们打招呼,对我们微笑。她坐在一小家日 常货品店的一个角落。当我们要求拍照时,她频频地拒绝我们。她 一直说:‘我不够美,太难看。’ 与大多数的人一样,她只看见自 己最丑的一面。能说是谦虚,或是缺乏信心,但最难做的是看见自 己最好的一面。当我们给她看自己的照片,她终于点了头,表示赞 成。可见,他人的眼光是最清楚,最准确的。

‘I’m too ugly.’

A shy smile and a wave of a hand was the only response we got at first. Seated in the corner of a humble convenience store she seemed nonchalant at first glance, uncaring even; but our request for a photograph met with adamant refusal. ‘I am not beautiful enough,’ she insisted. As with most, we often see the worst in ourselves, call it humility or a lack of confidence but it is always the hardest to see beauty in ourselves. After showing her our photograph, we got a grudging nod of approval. After all, when looking at ourselves, it is foreign eyes that see the most clearly.

陈宇傑 Ryan Tan Yu Kit, 17A01D / 蔡伟俊 Shawn Chua Wei Jun, 17S07A


 

Embarking on this journey has taught me a great number of lessons – the most notable being the importance of being optimistic and persistent in the face of difficulty. Being foreigners, and stepping into areas where the locals have not had too much interaction with outsiders, we were turned away on numerous occasions by the locals we tried to interact with. The most poignant incident of rejection came in the village, where we met an angry woman who chased us away as soon as heard that we had to photograph her. We were faced with such direct rejection many times; though it was disheartening, it taught me the importance value of determination as we were later rewarded with opportunities to meet welcoming locals who were most willing to share their stories with us. This also taught me to be more understanding and sensitive towards other people; some people may be naturally averse to strangers or fear being photographed – as social photographers it then becomes a matter of how we can help people overcome these barriers.

– Lee Ning Kai, 17A01B


 

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‘您活到八十岁的秘诀是什么?’

‘我长寿的秘诀是多吃菜,不吃肉,多做运动与家务,种种树。’

‘What is your secret to living to 80?’

‘My secret to longevity is to eat more vegetables, don’t eat meat, exercise and do housework more often and plant trees.’

– 梁宇凡 Neo Yu Fan, 17S03K / 许展维 Hee Zhan Wei, 17S03O


 

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‘身在福中不知福。’

他在这个村子里住了三年。在他50多年的人生道路中, 他曾在各式各样的村里居住,从而得到不同的体验。他 说道:‘我曾住过的村子经常发生打劫的事件,这个村子 安全许多。’随着时间的流逝,他的身体和心脏变得更虚 弱。因此他的血液循环不良,自己的手臂也感到疼痛。为 了解决这一问题,他自学中医医疗法,尤其是针灸的知 识。他说每个人最了解自己的身体,因此靠自己医自己 是最有效的方法。他觉得北京与新加坡的治安并不是理所 当然的。比如说,以前独自在街上行走是非常危险的。我 们身在福中不知福,应该感恩自己拥有的一切。

‘We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.’

He says that this village is very safe as compared to the others he had lived in where robbery and theft were a common occurrence. As he grew older, his body became weaker and blood circulation became worse as his heart deteriorated. He took it upon himself to learn traditional Chinese medicine as doctors were unable to fully help him. After all, since we know our own bodies the best, it would be best for each of us to help ourselves. He says that the safety standards in Beijing as well as in Singapore are things that we take for granted, since their streets were not as safe to travel in the past due to the prevalence of crime. He further believes that we should not be ignorant of what we have and show our gratitude where applicable.

李俊洋 Lee Jun Yang, 17S07C / 唐梓健 Thong Zi Jian, 17S06P


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这张照片描述的是草场地村里的一家人 。我们从远方看到了他们 之间充满热情的交流,从而感觉到了他们一家人的温馨。在我们采 访的所有人当中,他们可说是最亲切、温暖的一家人;他们很乐意 和两个来自外地的陌生人说话、沟通,就如我们是当地人一样。这 幅图描绘了家中的小宝贝——一个三岁的小男童,还有正在和邻居 谈天的家人。

This picture shows the little darling of the family, a three year old boy, and his mother and aunt, smiling as they sit in the courtyard outside their house chatting with family members and neighbours. What particularly attracted us to this family to ask for a picture was the warmth and exuberance they displayed during their interactions with each other when in first saw them afar. Of all the groups that we photographed, they were one of the friendliest, warmest and most welcoming – willing to accept a random pair of strangers from another country.

林立函 Caleb Lim, 17S07D / 李宁凯 Lee Ningkai, 17A01B


 

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小巷里住着一对夫妇和老父亲,先生姓张,声称写信为生。张先生喜 欢故弄玄虚,引起路过人的兴趣。张先生的父亲患中风将近八年,身 体瘫痪而无法自行,必须坐轮椅。张先生是个大孝子,不厌其烦地 照顾父亲,为了拍照他抱起父亲上轮椅、鼓励父亲张开眼睛。张先 生多次要求拍他父亲而不是他自己。张太太姓孙,家庭主妇。张氏 夫妇与邻居的关系相当和睦。邻居们对张爷爷也相当体贴,其中一 位女士的儿子与张爷爷时不时有些交流。由此可见,那里的生活与 新加坡的大不相同,不同在于生活节奏所引起。图片的左方是张太 太抱着邻居的儿子,右方是张先生站在张爷爷的轮椅后面。

The Zhangs live in this alley. Mr Zhang writes letters for a living. He likes to joke and fool around to captivate the interest of passers-by. His father suffered from strokes for about eight years, and thus was paralysed needing to go on a wheelchair. Mr Zhang is a filial son, and he never complains about having to take care of his father. This can be seen from lifting his father to the wheelchair. Their neighbourhood is vastly different from Singapore’s neighbourhood life, and the difference is mostly caused by the slower pace of life.

谢可敬 Austin Chia, 17A01E / 卢安义 Andrew Amadeus Susilo, 17S03B


Cultural diversity was the crux of this international trip to Beijing. From a language barrier to the many behavioural quirks that we saw, the vast difference in culture and ideology between the Mainland Chinese and ourselves could not have been more apparent. Observing the locals on the first couple of days gave us superficial understanding of their culture, the subsequent days spent interacting with the people of Beijing eventually shed some light on the vast diversity and depth of Chinese culture.

We visited two places that represented the stereotypical sides of China, the backward villages who lived a largely communal lifestyle and the metropolitan city that Beijing is renowned as. These two places gave us vastly different photographic opportunities but more importantly different experiences interacting with the people there. The people in the village were usually friendlier, more willing to share a word, their laidback lifestyle making them a lot more open to conversations with complete strangers. Those in the office complex (SOHO) were far from hostile but were constantly occupied with something that seemed more important than a 16 year old with a camera and a couple of trashy conversation starters. This made interacting with the people there far more difficult, but ironically it was where we had one of the longest conversations. The security guard at the complex was far more willing to talk to us than the others, as were most of the blue collared workers probably due to the slower nature of their job.

– Shawn Chua , 17S07A

The Wang Jing team comprises Yeo Jun Wei (17S03B) Ang Yong Ming (17S06E) Adam Teo (17S07B) Neo Yu Fan (17S03K) Hee Zhan Wei (17S03O) Teoh Xuan Min (17A01B) Clarence Lee Sheng (17S06D), Tay Keng Teng (17S03C), Teo Hao Yu (17S03G), Ryan Tan Yu Kit (17A01D), Shawn Chua Wei Jun (17S07A), Lee Jun Yang (17S07C), Thong Zi Jian (17S06P), Caleb Lim (17S07D), Lee Ningkai (17A01B), Austin Chia (17A01E), Andrew Amadeus Susilo (17S03B)

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