From left to right: Zhong Qiu, Lindsay, Navdeep and Navdeep's friend from Estonia. My first experience in China was teaching for one year at Shunde No.1 Middle School in Guangdong. This picture was taken a few days before I had to leave. I had fallen in love with Zhong Qiu, and was desperately sad about leaving.

Love in Shunde

We had travelled to Beijing from Guangdong on the sleeper train, playing poker the whole way, as Zhong Qiu had never seen the Great Wall before.

This year and the people I met shaped everything I have done since."

Zhong Qiu had experienced such difficulties in his life: his father died when he was 11, and he had to leave school to start work to support his family. By this point (he was 19), he was looking after his mother, grandmother, little sister, and several aunts.

He constantly told me how lucky I was to be able to go to University, that I had to return home as education and family were the most important things, and that he would wait for me there. We felt invincible, but I remember how heartbroken I felt at this moment.

Kelly's Grandparents' House

Kelly was my best friend in Shunde. Most weekends we would spend our days at her grandparents’ home. Her whole family would gather there. 

There was always a mahjong table set up in the front room for a never-ending game that people would just enter and leave. There was a huge fish tank, lots of dogs, and a mynah bird that would shriek 'Gong Hei Fat Choy'. Her grandfather cooked the most delicious food, and her grandmother would spend a lot of time upstairs in her beautiful roof garden, where she grew marrows, grapes, huge aloes, and kept tortoises and terrapins. 

These people are really like family to me. I have never known such warmth and generosity."

I went back last year for the first time in ten years, which is when I took the picture below. Kelly is married now and has a daughter. On this day, we had woken up early and gone for morning dim sum with the whole family.

Kelly and I then went to the fish market, and spent the rest of the morning making dumplings with grandpa. This was the start of a long lunch and after that we went out to eat 'double skin milk' and scorpion soup. By the end of the day we had to lie down we were so full, and so happy to be back together again!

When my mother came to stay, Kelly's granny took her by the hand, leading her around the garden chatting away in Cantonese, my mum answering back in English like they had known each other for years.

I went back to Shunde last year for the first time in ten years, which is when I took this picture. We were so happy to be back together again!
I was working on a research project about Ophiocordyceps sinensis - Dong chong xia cao (Yartsa Gunbu in Tibetan), a parasitic caterpillar fungus that is highly prized for its medicinal properties. In the picture is Tseten, the son of the head of the camp, and also the best picker in the whole group. 

Caterpillars

In springtime each year, every village in the region empties as groups of Tibetans travel to the hills to collect a parasitic caterpillar fungus that is highly prized for its medicinal properties. We travelled from Xining, Qinghai, to Golog in the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. From there, we went to the high altitude grasslands and camped with the Tibetan pickers. We followed the journey back to the market towns, where Muslim, Chinese and Tibetan traders gather, and every roadside, car park, hotel room and rooftop is given over to the cleaning, drying, weighing and selling of Yartsa Gunbu.

In the picture above is Tseten, the son of the head of the camp, and also the best picker in the whole group. Each day at nightfall, the pickers return from the hills and count their Gunbu - they are paid ¥6 for each one. The picture is taken in the sleeping area in one of the tents, where the previous days’ harvest had been laid out to dry before being taken down the hill and back to Golog by motorbike couriers.

In my own practice as an artist I work with biologists, and have been working on several projects over the past few years on medicinal plants. I find the subject fascinating, and would love to return to this region, and also Western Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces, to look further at traditional uses of plants.