Travel



Investigating Beijing’s Underbelly for Travel & Leisure

Clipping from "Beijing 24/7" for Travel & Leisure

Bejing is a notoriously hard city to pin down. It takes years of patient observation and interaction to start exposing the multifaceted nature of China’s capital. I can’t even begin to describe the number of parachute journalists who dropped in for a few days and unsuccessfully tried to capture the essence of the city. It was therefore a great pleasure to provide the photography for the one writer who got closest, Gary Shtenyngart. The satirical novelist spent a week or so in Beijing and left with quite a grasp of the many paradoxes the city has to offer. Maybe it came from his deadpan Russian roots, but he astutely picked apart the absurdities that make the city such a beguiling place to live. Humor is often the only way to get to the heart of the beast. Read the article here. Well done, sir, well done.

Clipping from "Beijing 24/7" for Travel & Leisure

Clipping from "Beijing 24/7" for Travel & Leisure

Clipping from "Beijing 24/7" for Travel & Leisure



    Red China Rising: Bourgeoisie Tourism in the Communist Heartland

    A Mao Zedong effigy sits in front of a backdrop of his former home for tourist photos in Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage site

    This is the second of a series of posts detailing the bourgeois practices of nouveau-riche, communist-heritage pilgrims who possess expectations and consumer desires that seem at odd with the core ideologies of the founding fathers of the Chinese Revolution. Armed with cash and a new sense of leisure, most of these fledgling tourists first make their way to Shaoshan/韶山, the birthplace of Mao Zedong. A slew of “red” products and trinkets are available around every corner even in the face of sincere reverence for founding Chinese Communist Party leaders that borderlines on idolization. Elderly tourists kowtow to statues of Mao Zedong while company retreats sing “red” songs and pledge oaths. These blind followers make easy prey for egregious tourist traps such as the Shao Yue Palace Maoist Family History Show, where attendants usher punters into Mao Zedong veneration halls, hand out lucky ornaments, ask them to bow to a Mao Zedong statue three times and then try to charge them for the “blessed” ornaments. Some estimate the value of the entire “red” industry at $1.5 billion dollars and Mao Zedong’s hometown is at the epicenter. Also check out the last post in the series on “The Defense of Yan’an” reenactment.

    A company tourist group pays reverence to Mao Zedong by bowing before his large statue near his former home in Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage site

    Busts of Mao Zedong stand outside a "red" product store in Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage siteTourists line up to enter Mao Zedong's former home while others take photos outside in Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage siteStatues of Mao Zedong sit inside a "red" product store in Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage site

    Attendants at the "Shao Yue Palace Maoist Family History Show" tout "red" products to tourists before ushering them into Mao Zedong veneration halls in Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage siteTourists have been coming to Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage site, for almost fifty yearsA "red" product vendor sits at her stall near Mao Zedong's former home in Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage site

    An advertisement to have your photo taken in traditional CCP soldier garb in Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage siteA Mao Zedong effigy for tourist photos in Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage siteRecreations of Mao Zedong's calligraphy for sale in Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage site

    Tourists wait in a long line outside of Mao Zedong's former home while a tour guide in a pink jumpsuit talks on her cellphone in Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage siteMao Zedong literature line the stalls near his former home in Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage siteA child poses in front of Mao Zedong's former home in Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong and CCP pilgrimage site



      Red China Rising: From Revolution to Reaction – “The Defense of Yan’an”

      Tourists can participate in "The Defence of Yan'an" battle reinactment for an extra fee. Here CCP soldiers prepare to rush the battlefield.

      As the Chinese Communist Party celebrates it’s 90th anniversary this year, nationalistic tourists are flocking in droves to communist heritage sites across China. Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong, and Yan’an, the cradle of the Chinese Revolution where the Long March ended, now cater to millions of tourists every year. This is going to be the first of a series of posts detailing the bourgeois leisure practices of these nouveau riche pilgrims who possess expectations and consumer desires that seem at odd with the core ideologies of the founding fathers of the Chinese Revolution. The most elaborate attraction in the country is the extremely popular “The Defense of Yan’an” battle reenactment. This spectacle became all the rage thanks to a special twist: for an extra fee observers can don soldier fatigues and participate in the fray. Not only can you observe a pseudo-historical reenactment that spends an inordinate amount of time praising the leadership of Mao, vilifying the KMT and demonstrating the harmonious integration of Shaanxi folk life with communist principles, but you can also tote around guns, get close to the explosions and run wildly around a makeshift village in the name of celebrating revolutionary heritage. The theater of history plays out every afternoon with extra matinees on weekends.

      Tourists can participate in "The Defence of Yan'an" battle reinactment for an extra fee. Here CCP soldiers prepare to rush the battlefield.

      Tourists can participate in "The Defence of Yan'an" battle reinactment for an extra fee. Here CCP soldiers prepare to rush the battlefield.Tourists can participate in "The Defence of Yan'an" battle reinactment for an extra fee. Here CCP soldiers prepare to rush the battlefield.Tourists can participate in "The Defence of Yan'an" battle reinactment for an extra fee. Here CCP soldiers prepare to rush the battlefield.

      Tourists can participate in "The Defence of Yan'an" battle reinactment for an extra fee. Here CCP soldiers prepare to rush the battlefield.Tourists can participate in "The Defence of Yan'an" battle reinactment for an extra fee. Here CCP soldiers prepare to rush the battlefield.Tourists can participate in "The Defence of Yan'an" battle reinactment for an extra fee. Here CCP soldiers prepare to rush the battlefield.

      Tourists can participate in "The Defence of Yan'an" battle reinactment for an extra fee. Here CCP soldiers prepare to rush the battlefield.Tourists can participate in "The Defence of Yan'an" battle reinactment for an extra fee. Here CCP soldiers prepare to rush the battlefield.Tourists can participate in "The Defence of Yan'an" battle reinactment for an extra fee. Here CCP soldiers prepare to rush the battlefield.

      Tourists can participate in "The Defence of Yan'an" battle reinactment for an extra fee. Here CCP soldiers prepare to rush the battlefield.



        Indonesian Hardcore Revival: Unity Through Diversity

        A hardcore screamo band ignites an abandoned house in Blitar

        Indonesian hardcore is back. A growing number of youth, disaffected by high rates of unemployment and conservative social mores, are returning to hardcore musical roots that first emerged in Java during the early nineties. Looking to blow off steam and build an alternative community that doesn’t bow to sponsors or mainstream media restrictions, these teenagers like the tempo loud, strong and fast. By employing DIY tactics on the Internet and through mobile phones, they continue to establish larger networks of peers and fellow outsiders. The swelling ranks of Indonesian hardcore fans now organize shows in abandoned houses, art centers and empty storefronts across the country. These communal affairs, put on purely for the sake of the music, often showcase up to twenty bands playing short, fiery sets of hardcore music as well as other outlying subgenres of metal and punk. The mosh pits may appear violent but fighting is not tolerated and after the shows most fans hang around and enjoy the camaraderie of their peers. The hardcore community in Java promotes tolerance and diversity and also continues to redefine the role of women in the largest Muslim nation on the planet. Check out the video below for a more detailed look into the Indonesian hardcore scene on Java.

        A hardcore fan shows off his "friend" tattoo in Blitar

        A lead singer screams into the mic in JakartaA crowd goes crazy for Straight Answer in JakartaA guitarist flips over a crowd in an abandoned house in Blitar

        Hardcore fans explode into a mosh pit in a community center in MalangA hardcore fan sports his "hardcore is back" shirtYoung hardcore fans work themselves up into a frenzy in Bandung

        A hardcore fan gets rammed into a crowd beneath a portrait of former President Suharto in BlitarA hardcore fan sports his "skinhead" tattoo in JakartaYoung hardcore fans sit outside a venue in Bandung waiting for the show to start

        A band rips through a set in an abandoned house in BlitarHardcore fans sit outside on scooters during a show in JakartaA lead singer gets lifted by hardcore fans in an abandoned house in Blitar

        The lead singer of To Die screams into the mic in MalangA drummer displays his "beat down" tattoos across his knucklesA young hardcore fan sits on a stage monitor during a show in Solo



          Found Objects: Fake Dinosaur Graveyard in Chinese Theme Park

          A fake dinosaur graveyard behind the European Theatre in Tianducheng, China

          Last month I visited Tianducheng outside of Hangzhou to continue work on my Counterfeit Paradises project (see Happy Magic Water Park, New South China Mall and Windows on the World). The French-themed residential development was absurd to say the least – a feature on it is forthcoming. The highlight of the trip for me, however, was not the knockoff Eiffel Tower surrounded by megablocks. I found something else. If you were not aware, you should know now: dinosaurs are AWESOME. I have loved them since I was kid which also coincided with my obsession with Calvin and Hobbes (see Tyrannosaurus Rex in F-14). While photographing the exceptional Roman Theatre in the village theme park attached to Tianducheng, I decided to check out the backstage. What did I eventually stumble upon? A fake dinosaur graveyard, obviously. I mean, what else could you expect from such a place? I subsequently freaked out for about an hour and took hundreds of photos of course. Enjoy…

          A fake dinosaur graveyard behind the European Theatre in Tianducheng, China

          A fake dinosaur graveyard behind the European Theatre in Tianducheng, ChinaA fake dinosaur graveyard behind the European Theatre in Tianducheng, ChinaA fake dinosaur graveyard behind the European Theatre in Tianducheng, China

          A fake dinosaur graveyard behind the European Theatre in Tianducheng, ChinaA fake dinosaur graveyard behind the European Theatre in Tianducheng, ChinaA fake dinosaur graveyard behind the European Theatre in Tianducheng, China

          A fake dinosaur graveyard behind the European Theatre in Tianducheng, ChinaA fake dinosaur graveyard behind the European Theatre in Tianducheng, ChinaA fake dinosaur graveyard behind the European Theatre in Tianducheng, China



            Indonesian Dispatches: The Mighty Borobodur

            Borobudur, a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist monument in Indonesia

            My trip to Indonesia in February was not all hardcore concerts and overnight buses. I was fortunate enough to take a day or two off from touring to check out some of the country’s cultural splendor. For years I wanted to visit the 9th-century Buddhist monument, Borobudur. Over the past decade I have been able to photograph most of the great Buddhist archeological sites in China, Mongolia, Nepal, India, Bhutan, Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Borobudur surely ranks as one of the most celebrated and lived up to many of my expectations, even if it did not quite match the scale of Angkor Wat or Bagan. Still, the massive pile easily exhibits some of the greatest relief sculpture in Southeast Asia. The 2,672 panels that wind their way to the top stupa intricately depict mythological stories as well as scenes from daily life. It is not often you get the chance to peer back one thousand years into the milieu of an ancient civilization. Check out some of the pictures below to see the depth and detail of their work. They were truly exquisite.

            Carving from Borobudur, a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist monument in Indonesia

            Carving from Borobudur, a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist monument in IndonesiaCarving from Borobudur, a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist monument in IndonesiaCarving from Borobudur, a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist monument in Indonesia

            Carving from Borobudur, a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist monument in IndonesiaCarving from Borobudur, a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist monument in IndonesiaCarving from Borobudur, a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist monument in Indonesia

            Carving from Borobudur, a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist monument in IndonesiaCarving from Borobudur, a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist monument in IndonesiaCarving from Borobudur, a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist monument in Indonesia



              Indonesian Dispatches: Straight Answer in Jakarta

              On my way out of Indonesia I really had no desire to stop through Jakarta again. I enjoyed my first two days there, but didn’t see any reason to submit myself to another round of the same daunting traffic and urban sprawl that I consistently get in China. However, after promises of hardcore madness by Fadhila Jayamahendra (aka Aca), the lead singer of Straight Answer, I decided to stay over one more night before heading on to Cambodia. I did not regret it. During my last night in Indonesia I witnessed one of the most frenzied audience responses to a live performance ever. Once Straight Answer broke into their first song, there was no holding back. Everyone charged the stage to try to get a piece of the action. As you can see in the video, I am getting thrown back and forth within the crowd. Also, the temperature of the room rose so quickly from the body heat that my lens fogged over – it was absolutely crazy. Straight Answer has been around since 1996 and is a staple of the Jakarta hardcore scene. There is an extended interview with Aca after some short concert clips. I am still putting together the rest of the Indonesian hardcore material so stay tuned – more to come.



                Moscow Metro’s Darkest Corners: Dostoevsky Underground

                Dostoevsky appears in a mural at the end of a long tunnel in the Dostoevskaya Moscow metro station

                Moscow bears the historical stigma of a brooding city fringed with murder, corruption and greed. Now these grim trappings of the Russian psyche have found a home underground. The Dostoevskaya Moscow Metro station, named in honor of Russia’s dark prince of literature, delves into the most gruesome nooks of Dostoevsky’s oeuvre. The graphic nature of the murals even went so far as to delay its opening earlier this year. A prominent Russian psychologist, Mikhail Vinogradov, declared before the unveiling, “The deliberate dramatism will create a certain negative atmosphere and attract people with an unnatural psyche.” There is no doubt that death hangs heavy over the polished marble of Dostoevskaya with depictions of Raskolnikov wielding an ax against an elderly pawnbroker and her sister from Crime and Punishment and the suicide-obsessed Kirillov holding a gun to his head from The Demons. Concerned Muscovites fear the station might become a magnet for those contemplating suicide, adding to the almost eighty committed on a yearly basis in the Moscow Metro. However, after my own visit, I felt such concerns are unwarranted. The entire station inspired a sense of reverence and awe. I felt like I was meandering through a church instead of a public transportation hub. The aura of Dostoevskaya was only punctured when a train screeched into the station and let off another teeming load of commuters. The artist behind the murals, Ivan Nikolayev, remains rightfully unapologetic, “What did you want? Scenes of dancing? Dostoevsky doesn’t have them.”

                A suicide-obsessed character from Dostoevsky's The Demons holds a pistol to his head in the Dostoevskaya Moscow metro station

                A passenger passes in front of a mural at the Dostoevskaya Moscow metro stationCommunters pass through the recently opened Dostoevskaya Moscow metro stationA mural in the Dostoevskaya Moscow metro station

                An old women looks at a mural depicting a hanging man at the Dostoevskaya Moscow metro stationA mural in the Dostoevskaya Moscow metro stationA passanger exits the Dostoevskaya Moscow metro station

                A character holds a gun to the head of supine man in a mural at the Dostoevskaya Moscow metro stationSubway security guards monitor the platforms at the Dostoevskaya Moscow metro stationA mural depicts the main character from Crime and Punishment murdering an elderly pawnbroker and her sister with an axe in the Dostoevskaya Moscow metro station



                  Murakami at Versailles: Pop of the Ages

                  Murakami at Versailles: Oval Buddha on the Water Parterre with Versailles in the background

                  There was a spot of bother in France these past few months when Murakami took over the ornate halls and salons of Versailles with his superflat sculptures. Apparently his playful and questionably subversive installations did not go over well with a handful of descendants of Louis XIV and other royalists who consider the UNESCO World Heritage estate sacrosanct (check The Economist, The Art Newspaper and Culture Kiosque). This isn’t the first time that a contemporary art exhibit at Versailles has been called into question either. Jeff Koons’ giant lobster was met with similar grumblings in 2008. Laurent Le Bon, the curator of the show, seemed very conscious of the foregoing dissent and wrote an almost apologetic introduction to the exhibit. He tries to separate himself from the “clashes” of historical heritage and contemporary work presented at other cultural institutions. Instead he claims Murakami’s fantasy world compliments the paradise created at Versailles and allows the viewer to reassess the nature of its baroque trappings. Murakami himself implores visitors to let down their guard and take on an impish persona for the exhibit: “I am The Cheshire Cat who greets Alice in Wonderland and chatters on as she wanders around the Chateau. With my playful smile, I invite you all to the Wonderland of Versailles.” In my humble opinion, I thought the overall effect was fabulous. I know it was my first visit to Versailles, an overwhelming place in and of itself, but seeing Murakami’s hyper colorful and surreal sculptures placed amidst the intricately painted ceilings and molded walls of Versailles bowled me over. Aside from the forceful visceral nature of the exhibition, I feel that the impetus behind Murakami’s art and Versailles are very much the same. At the heart of both is a drive to cater to the most elaborate and luxurious sentiments of their respective eras. Although the aesthetics of opulence from 17th century France and 21st century Japan differ mightily, Murakami and the legendary team of artists behind Versailles created some of the most grand, over-the-top, pop imagery of their times. No matter what, the controversy behind the “clash” or “harmony” of the Murakami Versailles exhibit will continue to drive up ticket sales before it closes on December 14.

                  Murakami at Versailles: Flower Matango in the Hall of Mirrors

                  Murakami at Versailles: Miss Ko in the Salon of WarMurakami at Versailles: Tongari-Kun (Mr. Pointy Head) in the Hercules SalonMurakami at Versailles: Kiki in the Venus Salon

                  Murakami at Versailles: Max & Shimon in the Mars SalonMurakami at Versailles: The Simple Things in the Salon of PeaceMurakami at Versailles: The Emperor's New Clothes in the Coronation Room



                    Stadium Architecture South Africa World Cup 2010

                    Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban, South Africa

                    First of all, congratulations to South Africa for hosting such an amazing World Cup. I think they did an exemplary job in the face of many obstacles and managed to pull off one of the most successful World Cups of all time. One of the host nation’s greatest assets was definitely the stadiums. The exterior of Soccer City in Johannesburg and Green Point Stadium in Cape Town were incredible, but the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban with it’s giant arch extending over the field proved to be the clear winner. Attached are a few of my favorite architectural shots from World Cup 2010 in South Africa.

                    Soccer City, Johannesburg, South AfricaHolland verse Brazil at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

                    Soccer City, Johannesburg, South AfricaGreen Point Stadium, Cape Town, South Africa





                      All content © 2014 to Matthew Niederhauser