Self-Portrait

Zhang Qiaoya (Emily)
GINLING COLLEGE, NANJING, CHINA

I’m Emily, a Nanjing local. As a calm optimist, I’ll share my hobbies and reflection on my life goals with you. Rick Warren, an American Christian pastor and author, once said “lots of people are not living but existing”.  I am one of those guys who feels unclear about life goals. However, 21 years of living, accompanied by observations, has recently made me consciously rethink my interest and life goals.

When it comes to my hobbies, traveling, photography and musical instruments must be included. As an enthusiastic traveler, I feel refreshed whenever I’m on the road. Exotic scenes, local traditions or unique ways of life bring about ecstasy by activating my sense organs. Witnessing Yunnan locals sing till midnight in the Old Town of Lijiang on weekdays is an exposure to a city’s liveliness. Seeing Japanese occupy themselves with either games or books while waiting at the entrance of Disneyland calms me down in today’s fast-paced life. Traveling widens my horizon, liberalizes my perspective and cultivates my capability for tolerance.

As a passionate photographer, I carry my camera whenever I go out. With the aid of digital cameras, I keep my memory vividly reproducible and clearly organized. “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Photography is my visual tool to record the happenings. Nuances in shooting angles, shooting modes or light sensitivity enrich my personal visual dairies.  Starting in  2005, I started shooting pictures out of a passion for restoring monuments. Now I’d say I shoot pictures for single moments. In tourist attractions, Chinese visitors are easily recognized by “holding cameras” in crowds. But taking photos doesn’t make any sense if they are casually stocked in piles. What’s more, photos occupy disk space especially when you never review them. However, photos mean a lot to me.  After taking photos for almost 8 years, I find my focus has turned from specific historical sites to scenes happening around me. As a passionate traveler, I used to wait for opportunities to take photos of scenery with no heads in them. But now, I just shoot for the moment instead of for the perfect scenery. The circumstance and the scenes where people crowd into a site reveal my emotions and can never be regained. All these things happen only once.  I try my best to involve contextual elements in my “single” shot. Later when you see them again, nuances of changes which we never noticed will unfold before us. It’s this observation and reproduction of changes that inspires me. While certain sites may hardly change, human activities did influence the layout of the city. Modern society develops so fast that we never even stop to think what it was like in 1990’s Nanjing. Out of appreciation for the skylines and changeable colorful sky, I have started taking photos of the sky near my home since the Typhoon Matsa, which hit Nanjing in 2005.

Speech doesn’t help me depict the impressive colors high above in the sky, so I have taken a series of the sky, a subject I continue to shoot. What I have discovered is that no matter how blue it may be, the increasingly dense skyscrapers disrupt the balance between sky and buildings. Hoisting machines rush into my eyes, making varied heights no longer a visual enjoyment. Skyscrapers seem to compete for height instead of design or function. In such a dynamic society, the relatively static pictures occasionally remind me of the past and help me look forward to the future in a rational way. (Taking photography as a hobby, even for no ends, something either unexpected or unnoticed will be revealed.)

A Patch of Sky Near Nanjing, China, 2007

A Patch of Sky Near Nanjing, China, 2007

The Same Patch of Sky, 2008

The Same Patch of Sky, 2008

The Same Patch of Sky, 2009

The Same Patch of Sky, 2009

The Same Patch of Sky, 2010

The Same Patch of Sky, 2010

The Same Patch of Sky, 2011

The Same Patch of Sky, 2011

The Same Patch of Sky, 2012

The Same Patch of Sky, 2012

The Same Patch of Sky, 2012

The Same Patch of Sky, 2012

The Same Patch of Sky, 2012

The Same Patch of Sky, 2012

The Same Patch of Sky, 2013

The Same Patch of Sky, 2013

(More photos in the album named “The Same Patch of Sky” are on my Renren website. )

As an amateur piano player, many friends of mine appreciate my musical performance. They wonder why, without seeing the score, I can easily play the music just by listening. Actually it’s passion that creates inspirations. Captivated by an instrument’s sound and expressiveness, I have tried various musical instruments using my hearing and my sensitivity to seven notes. I treat playing musical instruments as an entertainment instead of a performance; I’m not a conformist who obeys the original rhythm strictly. With sound repetitions added or notes changed, I release my emotions in a unique way and I enjoy it.

Yet think about my hobbies carefully. My life goals pertain to struggle and health. In the final analysis, my hobbies are all consumption behaviors. What if I don’t have money to sustain my interest in those things? Thus financial stability is a prerequisite, necessitating consistent self-improvement for future. Furthermore, health is also my life priority. Nothing is more important than a healthy body. While others see difficulty in simultaneous interpretation, I put a greater emphasis on the importance of sense organs. All my ability-utilization depends on organs. And organs, if damaged, couldn’t give full play to my competence to play enjoyable melody or facilitate communication between foreigners.

Anyway, to feel happy is my ultimate goal.  Though the process may not always be obstacle-free, I will try my best to sustain my hobbies till the last minute of life. As a calm optimist, I can say I’m living instead of just existing.