Written by Stephanie Liao
For most of us the tiny corners of the world that are untouched by tourism aren’t too much to think about. Maybe a tropical paradise here and there might pass through your fantasies and as memory serves, they are all typically beautifully untouched by man and absolutely pure. As for people like Jonathan Lee, these untouched paradises are incredibly important to keep in mind due to the fact that the characteristic of “pure” is slowly diminishing.
Photographer and environmental health advocate Jonathan Lee has traveled around the world and back, coming home to California to find that our recycling troubles are far from over. Here in Los Angeles, we have made big initiatives to encourage the public to jump onto the recycling bandwagon motto “reduce, reuse, recycle!” However from a different perspective, I found myself wondering if recycling is enough. Lee offered me a view into what his travels were like a while back when he was traveling through Malaysia in an effort to give me an idea of how recycling is going for other parts of the world.
Borneo, a city in east Malaysia, brings in tourists to the small island year after year. It’s main attraction is its promise of a tropical paradise underwater as well as rainforest adventures and a diverse culture to experience. Filled with opportunities to dive and snorkel along its shorelines tourism is a big factor for small towns like this, especially for a coastal city like Semporna where the population is barely beyond six digits. As Lee recalled, Semporna is a “water city” where its community thrives off of the water; boats are the main sources of transportation and houses on stilts over the water are common. As small as Semporna may be, it’s attractions are rather unique making it a hot spot for foreigners to travel through.
For someone who has never traveled to an eastern seaport off of a small island for snorkeling, the narrative of Lee’s trip was enticing. To my dismay, what came next were his photographs of what he experienced at the seaports just moments before traveling out into the water for diving. In a few photographs that Lee had taken, the seaports were far from paradise. The water by the docks of the seaport were beyond polluted, wrappers and bottles of all sorts float along the shoreline bobbing up and down around boats all gathered to take tourists out into open water. The sight was disheartening as one wonders, how could such a small island far from mass consumerism like America still be so heavily affected by pollution? But clearly how could a city whose attraction is the water allow its actual water to be so contaminated?
Semporna and its blemished paradise is “not a unique story” Lee informs me. In fact, as he spoke with the native islanders whose livelihood depended on the water, many are aware of the uprising of pollution in the seaports but so many are unsure as to how to go about the obstacle of cleaning up. In a place like Semporna, the water provided transportation, food, capital through tourism and also a means of cleaning but like many other coastal city dwellers, few who live there consider their personal impact on the water. Digging deeper beyond trash at shorelines, Lee found that Semporna’s issue wasn’t only along the coast but that the entire city’s waste management was the main source of misguided information about trash and recycling.
Considering that America is one of the leading countries in education and technology, its hard to understand that even with such a reputation as a “progressive” country, America is still very low on the list of environmentally friendly countries in the world. In this context, taking us from America all the way to the shores of Malaysia, Lee points out that the solution now isn’t so much about cleaning up but about preserving the beauty that we still have in nature. For instance in the commonly used mantra “Reuse, Reduce, Recycle,” Lee states that the order of reusing, reducing and then recycling was created purposely because one of our first moves as an environmentally conscious community should be about purposefully reusing what we can in an effort to save production efforts of creating new products. In that sense, Lee provides an example of reusing plastic bags for more than just the walk from the grocery store to your pantry. Those plastic bags used by virtually everyone who shops at grocery stores are used for not more than 15 minutes (actually this depends on how far your pantry is from your local grocery store). By cutting down the production of plastic bags, like they do in major cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Hong Kong, energy is saved from recycling efforts, less landfill space is used, and there is potentially roughly $3 million dollars to be saved.
Step 2 includes reducing the prevalence the of single-use package. Yes single-use packaging has been created for convenience but in the long run, those itty-bitty bags of chips potentially end up taking up more space in landfills than if more people utilized reusable bags and purchased large Costco-like sized packaging. Every little effort counts especially if the education of how to incorporate these recycling tips into your everyday life became more accessible.
As a Los Angeles native myself, I have always been aware of the pollution that overshadows the beauty in Los Angeles. However as many people would agree, the little attempts at being environmentally conscious almost go unnoticed and leave one feeling like their efforts don’t make a difference. Often the massive presence of trash and pollution discourages people to a point of hopelessness. In my conversation with Lee, it is clear that these feelings of unhelpfulness are absolutely unwarranted.
Lee encourages all to not only make whatever effort they can but to also consider new alternatives to recycling. Hand in hand with Angela Du’s ECOStitch line, upcycling is now front and center of the worldwide advocacy of environmental health. For those like me who have never heard of upcycling, it is the movement in which we can take whatever we consider trash and turn it into what others may consider “treasures.” Utilizing a creative spin to recycling has not only provided efficient use of waste but also allows for the education of recycling to be a bit more recreational. For instance during Lee’s travels in Malaysia, he has encountered international people who have taken waste and brought them to classrooms for craft projects to promote upcycling to the younger generation. These small but impactful projects are a mark of true human ingenuity in environmental advocacy.
Du’s ECOStitch line takes recycling to the runway this Saturday the 19th at the 626 Night Market where upcycling is presented to the public as an upfront fashion statement. If you are having trouble thinking of inventive ways to upcycle, Angela Du for INKDThread is who you’ll want to stop by and talk to about her personal journey in the forefront of upcycling fashion. The efforts to educate and promote recycling benefits not only the community we live in but sends a message to the rest of the world as a call to action. Du and Lee may only be two voices in the crowd but their undertaking of the responsibility to reduce our environmental footprint is a message far from small and definitely hard to ignore.
This is a story of FeenFaa Sumitra and her adopted children in Thailand. A story of compassion and of greed, of love and of neglect – the widespread issue of physical and sexual abuse of children are far too often untold, and to say that the short as well as long-term effects are serious would be an absolute understatement.
I crossed paths with Faa and her friends in Thailand 2 months ago while hitchhiking at a national park just outside Chiang Mai. Their fascinating upbringing in a native Ahka hill tribe village and equally inspiring personal stories made it impossible not to visit their rural homes, nestled in the cloud forests of northern Thailand, off the grid, and more self-sustaining than any “civilized” western cities I have come across. I later had the opportunity to meet the children and staff of G.R.O.W., and spent several days living, playing, laughing, listening, and documenting the tremendous progress, vision, and love they have for one another, and for God.
Enjoy this 4-minute video by yours truly.
7.7 million seconds later, I’ve returned to California.
Equipped with a backpack of life essentials, cameras, and an open mind, I sought to reconnect with my ancestral roots in Hong Kong and Asia, eager to discover the incredible diversity of cultures, history, foods, biodiversity, and even a fair share of social and environmental issues. Although I started and ended the trip solo, much like last year’s journey, this one also became a flowing cascade of beautiful experiences in nature and of human connections with strangers, new and old friends, as well as family.
The physical part of the journey may have come to a close, but the memories, enlightenment, and relationships established or strengthened remain in me forever. Even the surplus of social media updates and my very best photos, with or without context, have only told a small snippet of the full story. Despite my love for photography and attachment to electronic devices, I did not forget to live in and be conscious of the present moment. A more complete depiction of this 90-day trip is in order; I will give it my best shot in the coming months.
I am ever thankful for the warmth and wisdom I was shared with throughout Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, and Japan. My thirst for wanderlust has been both quenched and intensified – it’s a wondrous feeling.
Rally against fracking and Keystone XL pipeline in front of City Hall in downtown LA as Jerry Brown and Obama-appointed climate change task force meet on Feb 13, 2014. Special thanks to CREDO Mobile, So Cal Climate Action 350, The Sierra Club, and many other individuals & local org’s for mobilizing folks from all over southern California
Hashtags: #NoKXL #NoFracking #IdleNoMore #ForwardOnClimate #KeystoneXL #UnfrackCal
Nationwide Vigils to Protest Keystone XL Pipeline, 2014-02-03. Hosted by CREDO Mobile, So Cal Climate Action 350, The Sierra Club, 350.org, and attended by thousands of individuals across North America.
Twitter/Facebook/Instagram hashtags: #NoKXL #KeystoneXL #ForwardOnClimate #IdleNoMore #NoKXLLA
Link to full album here.
This is it - the final cut of a newly crafted time-lapse video in the attempt to condense 259 days of adventure, learning, and memories into 5 minutes with approximately 10,000 stills.
That’s condensing 259 days of farm life, eating, camping, star-gazing, moon-rising, and cycling into a soundtrack-synchronized 5-minute-package. Tough work, but it absolutely had to be made, and now it awaits your enjoyment! I started working on this video months ago while still on my trip, and was able to cut all the sequences together since coming home.
It is nearly an impossible task to give a shoutout to everyone directly and indirectly involved in the making of this journey and video… but know that I am so thankful for what little or great contributions and energies you have put in.
Being at home this past month has given me quality time to rest, reflect, and evaluate this whole journey. The impact it has had on me personally and professional is tremendous as well as profound. New friends and characters along the way have shown me diverse perspectives on life, and to have been immersed in the production of our food from driving the shovel into dirt with gumboots, placing into the ground marvelous packets of DNA we call seeds, to witnessing the sprouts morph from infancy to leafy greens or fleshy fruits providing us full-spectrum nutrition (and then there are the eggs, diary, and meat production!) – the consciousness gained of such intricacies and beauty of this nature system, which a majority of people, myself included, take for granted – is truly one that sticks forever.
Fuller post with thoughts to come.
Another thing I have also been doing is pre-print touch up’s, ordering, and getting them ready to be shipped out to those who have selected perks. The first batch out went out earlier today, and others will follow later this week as well as the next! Sorry for the slight delay.
Some quick snaps:
Almost wanted to keep them all myself…
Adding the matting
Looks superb, I’d say!
One of the larger 12×18 prints. I was asked to sign on the front!
And the bike has a new mission – taking the packages to the Post Office!
I leave you with these 2 joyful images:
Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!
The official stats are in:
- 3012 miles / 4847 km
- 259 days
- 5 farms & intentional communities
- 3 flats
- 0 injuries to self & cameras
Since one of my intentions for this journey is to have a low carbon footprint, I am very happy to say that public transport (ferry, bus, train, light rail) or car-share were utilized for non-bicycle solo travel, while side road trips were mostly done with gas efficient (40+ MPG) cars. Besides supporting locally-produced or made foods, I produced very little waste overall as only consumables and trip necessities were purchased, and a majority of scrap materials were composted or recycled. I have found great satisfaction in living a simple life, as the joys have always been experienced through great human connections and sheer beauty in nature, rather than the accumulation of belongings.
If you are interested in a print (or two, or three…) of one of the photographs from this bicycle tour across the Pacific Northwest and California coast, I’d be thrilled to talk with you privately to make that enlargement happen! Please email me.
It’s been a tremendous journey, and I am hugely grateful to all for the contributions as well as non-monetary support through these past few months. The adventures continue…
Below are some of the new arrivals – a combination of captures from recent weeks and earlier this year – enjoy!
*Edit: Conservacion Patagonica has posted a shoutout for the Indiegogo fundraiser on their Facebook page, awesome.
Strait of Geogria, British Columbia
Roberts Creek, British Columbia
Cutthroat Lake, North Cascades, Washington
(from the PCT) North Cascades, Washington
North Cascades, WashingtonMartins Beach, Half Moon Bay, California
Big Sur, California
Big Sur, California
Kirk Creek Campground, Big Sur, California
Piedras Blancas Light Station, California
San Onofre, California
Surfers on the Water at San Onofre, California
I now type this from the comforts of my parents’ house in Los Angeles. The past several days have been filled with extremely positive vibes and smiles as my cycling friends and I reach our mutual destination safely. After a round of celebratory meals and gathering with friends in town, it’s now time for a transition to life back at home – a time of decompression, reflection, multi-media organizing & editing, and of course, paving the way for future photographic journeys and travel treks!
Reached the San Diego/Tijuana border on December 20th!
A gorgeous sunset at San Onofre with the cycling buddies I’ve been riding with since Big Sur
Passed the 3000 mile (~4800 km) mark on the last day in San Diego!
The trusty Trek 520 bike that has been through it all
Exactly as stated!
The funds from the campaign has just been deposited into my bank account. I want total transparency for all of my contributors, so here is a screenshot of my Indiegogo dashboard showing the incoming funds & fees:
The total before PayPal fees as shown in the bottom right is $2953.41
After some quick math wizardry in PayPal, the final net amount is $2939.45
As stated on the fundraiser, I have joyfully donated 10% of the net proceeds to 350.org and Conservacion Patagonica at $293.95 each.
In the mean time, a very warm happy holidays!
I met this French-Canadian family at Venice Beach in Los Angeles 2 days ago, and they are currently 6 or so months into their world bicycle tour. They plan to cycle through various continents in the next several years as their 6-year old daughter gets home-schooled and soaks in all the cultures, characters, and places they will visit. The mother told us that she has been a bit lonely in the US because she doesn’t speak much English. I have a feeling their little one is going to have a trilogy and a half of stories and experiences growing up, and likely become quite an adaptive chameleon wherever she/they end up. Her little bike has panniers too, and can be attached to dad’s bike to ride in tandem or freely on her own. Before we bid farewell to one another, they told me they want to show others that having a kid does not equate being strapped to one place and needing to give up on the adventures in life.
We’ve hit the goal, and beyond!!
I am positively overwhelmed by the spike of activities on the Indiegogo fundraiser this past week… this would not have been possible without everyone’s financial, verbal, and social media support. Truly, truly humbled and thankful for you all.
Enjoy the following new favorites from the past several days!
Humbled and joyous,
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Big Sur, California
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Big Sur, California
Natural Bridges, Santa Cruz, California
Martins Beach, Half Moon Bay, California
Martins Beach, Half Moon Bay, California
Hello from the San Francisco Bay Area!
It’s amazing to ponder upon the fact that the contributions from all of you span across 5 different time zones. It’s perhaps even more incredible that we are coming up to the last 9 days for this fundraiser, and it currently sits just over 93% of the goal! What a treat it was this morning to open up my email and Indiegogo dashboard to this sight:
I spent a Thanksgiving filled with abundance with Ken & Susan at Pasture 42, their family, as well as at the neighboring Full Belly Farm. Although I am away from home and family, I am constantly surrounded and reminded by friends and strangers alike to be thankful for all that life offers. May we all live in gratitude and harmony with everyone we cherish not only today, but each and everyday.
I learned a great deal and thoroughly enjoyed this last farm stop. We got to squeeze in a family portrait session, and here is one of my favorites:
Although I will still be on the road as the fundraiser comes to a finish, it’ll be one of my top priorities as I get home to Los Angeles later in December to be in contact with each person who has contributed to the Indiegogo fundraiser get the right photo printed and delivered to your door steps. I am most certainly getting excited about this! Here’s a sneak peek of a gorgeous 16×24 and three 5×7′s that was recently purchased by a customer:
Tomorrow, I will depart from Berkeley for the coast highway once more. First stop – Half Moon Bay – then Santa Cruz, Big Sur, and beyond! Below is a rough idea of my route:
Let’s finish strong together in these final days… I’d love to see that goal hit (and beyond?!), and I am so committed to cycling the last 650 miles! Any (re)sharing of this fundraiser to your Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, via tags or messages to friends and family would be sublime.