It has taken me four months of procrastination, but I have just finished editing the photos from a newborn baby portrait session from last September.
Four months of forgetfulness, avoidance, and indecision. I couldn't decide which photos I liked, which I wanted to edit, or how I wanted the final shots to look. I was too busy with other things, and just too burned out with photo editing to bother. The mom even had to come to me and say..."uh, Kiley, I know you're busy, but remember those photos you took...?"
This isn't my normal professional behavior. I usually turn around my clients photographs within two weeks. But you see, this wasn't my normal "client", either. These photos were of my friend Rebecca and her baby Marty(pants), and these photos were special. They were the last of a long series that I started taking of Rebecca when she was 15 weeks pregnant, a series that documented her changing body and journey into motherhood, a series that grew as our friendship grew, and resulted in some of the best photos I have ever taken. These photos were also the last ones I had the privilege to shoot of this beautiful pair, before they left Qingdao to repatriate to the U.S.
It seems obvious to me now the putting off finishing the photos was my way of denying that this chapter is over, that Rebecca and Marty have moved on, and that an ocean and twelve time zones now separates me from my good friend. Although we only knew each other for two years, her influence remains. It shows most clearly in my photography, for which she patiently sat still over the course of eleven different sessions while I tested new techniques, new lighting, and new locations. But it also shows in other, subtler ways. Rebecca taught a 40-year old me to shake my booty, Latin style, as my Zumba teacher. As a devoted and confident Christian, she suffered through long discussions about faith, what it means, who the faithful are, and the loss of all faith I experienced when Miles died, all without defense or judgement. She got me hooked on Chinese massage, to the point that for a time, she and I were getting two massages a week. She is a business woman, a fashionista, a fitness instructor, a Christian, and a true friend.
I want to share some of my favorite photos from these sessions. Like this one, which I took while lying in the pool in my bikini, when Rebecca was so pregnant at 39.5 weeks that she could barely float.
Here, she is 30 weeks pregnant and still teaching Zumba 4 times a week.
Or these two, which I love for their simple beauty, taken as I was learning to wrangle off-camera flash, before her baby bump really even showed.
The photos are finally done, Rebecca. These are the last of them. I procrastinated because I miss you and didn't want our time together in Qingdao to end. With all my love.
Vivian was eating breakfast a couple of weeks ago when she announced to our housekeeper (in Chinese), "Xiao Li, Mama and I are going to meet your family!" Xiao Li nearly dropped the plates she was stacking, choked a little, and stuttered, "really?" The backstory is that Vivi and I had spoken, in the abstract, of how nice it would be to meet Xiao Li's family. The next possible moment, Vivi was making arrangements.
Xiao Li is nothing if not gracious and kind. She called her parents and made the arrangements. She gathered her family, made a bunch of food, and waited for us on the street corner at 8 am. Her husband Zhang helped navigate the backroads to her parent's village, and her little niece Jia Xuan came along to play with Vivian on the long drive.
We drove to Xiao Houzhai, taking 2 1/2 hours to drive the 100 km on often bumpy dirt roads surrounded by scrubby pine trees and rocky hills, beautiful and dusty scenery that in many ways reminded me of the place where I grew up. We passed village after village, orchards of fruit trees, fields of potatoes and taro, and vast stretches of land made colorful by ripe hot chili peppers ready for harvest. We passed cows and goats, chickens and dogs, and truckloads of pigs.
This is a land of farmers, who, unlike city dwellers, live in traditional Chinese village houses. Each house is a small walled compound built around a courtyard. Courtyards are multi-functional spaces that are shared by people and their livestock alike. This is the home where Mr. Zhang and his wife raised four children, and the home where Xiao Li grew up with three generations around one courtyard. Xiao Li lives in the city now, but her family remains in the village.
I have dozens upon dozens of photos of this day, of Xiao Li's generous family, of the feast they provided, of the fun the children had, and of apple picking. Far too many photos to share here, sadly. But I will share some of my favorite moments on this unforgettable day of abundant smiles.
clockwise from top left: beef and onion dumplings made by Xiao Li's mother, Xiao Li's brother cooking lamb stir-fry, Xiao Li's mother gathering wood for the stove, Xiao Li cooking dumplings in a giant wok.
clockwise from top left: the feast, Xiao Li's mother, Xiao Li, and Jia Xuan, some of the food, and Mr. Zhang, Xiao Li's father.
Clockwise from top left: Corn drying in the village, Vivi using a gourd basket, Vivi inspecting an insect, Vivi and (Young) Zhang, apples and insects.
For these layouts, I am trying out some free storyboard templates generously provided for download by The Coffee Shop and Pugly Pixel. Linking up with the weekly Simple As That photo challenge.
Imagine its your birthday, your special day, and you just happen to be in one of the great cultural cities of Europe with your family. Aside from feeding your child, you have no obligations, and the city is at your disposal. You can do whatever you want. So what do you do? Visit museums, take in a night of dinner and world-class classical music, or go shopping?
If you are an A number 1 dad like Bruce, you spend your special day making memories with your kid. Enough of museums, palaces, and cathedrals. After two weeks in Europe, and more high culture than we can swallow, it was high time we went to the circus.
Circus Roncalli happened to be on tour through Europe when we rolled into Salzburg, and instead of visiting museums and cathedrals on our one full day in the city, we splurged on circus tickets and made an afternoon of it. We started with refreshments in an old-fashioned railroad dining car (the circus still prefers to travel by rail), then moved into the big top where we sweated in the afternoon heat and bought souvenirs, waiting for the performance to begin.
Circus Roncalli is a small, one-ring circus performed in a big-top tent, just like in the old days. There are no lions or tigers, no bicycling bears, and no trapeze artists, just clowns, acrobats, strong men, strong women, and horses, lots of horses. Vivi could hardly stand the wait, and Bruce and I kept our expectations low. Ultimately, we were all satisfied by this little circus. The assortment of black Friesan horses and smaller Arabians performed amazing displays of high-speed choreography, the clowns kept Vivian and the entire audience laughing, and the traditional acrobatics and feats of strength kept me and Bruce on the edge of our seats.
Going to the circus wasn't on our agenda. When in Salzburg, we thought we would see Mozart's birthplace, tour a cathedral, see a palace, and otherwise indulge in culture and bask in history. But again, as I have found previously, keeping our itinerary flexible and our expectations vague led to a fantastic European experience and hopefully, a memory that will last many, many years.
Please join me in wishing Bruce a happy birthday, only two days late.
Just ten minutes ago I was sitting here, crying a little as I wrote a tear-jerker of a post about how this is our last visit to Korea, and likewise, our last time with our beloved Park Sunsengnim, Vivian's first teacher. Vivi was at school with Mrs. Park from age 18 months to 3 years, and since we have been in China, on average one two days every six months.
Vivian spent yesterday and today at school with Mrs. Park, just like she had done every other time we have visited Busan. Mrs. Park comes by at 9:15 in the little yellow school bus, picks Vivian up, and together they wheel off to school. As if nothing had ever changed. As if we still lived here, Vivian could still understand Korean, and Mrs. Park could still speak English.
But back to that post: it was poetic writing. For sure you would have cried had you had the chance to read it. It was about love and loss, about a young child's life spent far from family, and how some people touch your life so deeply that they become family.
But you're not going to get the chance to read it, because I deleted it. I was writing and feeling all this so deeply, relishing the bittersweet, and then suddenly my head stopped whirling, and out of it I snapped. I realized I was making a mountain out of a molehill.
Sometimes I do this, make mountains. I believe strongly in the adage that "life is what you make it," and sometimes what I make is more internal drama than I need. My life is simple and it tends to stay that way until I impart more meaning and significance on things than they need to have. This trip, this good-bye, is a perfect example.
Objectively, this is nothing but a visit. Just another visit among many, and it does not have to be a forever good-bye. Just because our friends (the ones we always stay with in Busan) are moving home to Norway, just because most of our other friends have left, does not mean we can't come back to Busan. Our next visit will just look different. It may be shorter, and we may stay in a hotel, but we do not have to say goodbye, not yet.
As Mrs. Park drove away today in the little yellow school bus, she asked if she will see us again next year? I told her yes, thinking that it was a lie. But as it turns out, its not going to be a lie. We will see her again next. As long as we have proximity and means, we will be back to Busan again next year.