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Published: Friday January 25, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Monday April 22, 2013 MYT 3:20:38 PM

Pictures from the heart

BOTH friends and rivals of 64-year-old Datuk Hon Choon Kim were shocked when the former two-term deputy Education Minister decided to retire from active politics back in 2008.

They felt that the former Seremban MP, who was not even 60 then, had a bright future ahead of him with even his harshest criticis conceding that he was minister material.

“I decided to give up politics to pursue my second love, which is photography,” he said at the launch of his 176-page Searching for Light, a compilation of breathtaking photographs he captured during his many trips to China after his retirement.

A modest Hon, who claims his photography skills are still “elementary” despite his impressive works, has since his retirement been making an average of four trips to China, a place he describes as one of the most beautiful on earth.

His visits have taken him to several provinces such as Sichuan, Yunnan, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Jiangxi, Gansu, Qinghai, Huizhou, Guangxi, Tibet and Guangdong.

“My visits were mostly to the rural areas and places that were not that popular. But these places have such spectacular scenery and landscapes which change with the four seasons that I don’t have the words to describe them other than to tell the story through my lens,” said Hon, who was also a two-term state executive council member.

True to his word, the 138 images in Searching for Light has some of the most stunning and never seen before images of rural China, ranging from sprawling deserts, timeless villages, magnificently terraced rice fields, beautiful flowering meadows, mountain ranges that many would have thought never existed, lakes, intricately built Tibetan monasteries and stupas.

Hon, who bought his first camera for some RM4,000 back in 2002, said his fascination with China began when he was a child through the many images he saw in newspapers and in the Chinese literature and poetry he read.

“China has always intrigued me. When I went there on my very first trip back in 1991, I instantly knew that my association with the country would continue for many years to come,” said the father of four, who never had any formal training on handling a camera.

But getting the perfect shot was not as easy as many would think. There were many occasions where he had to spend days on the road to get to a destination as most of these areas are not linked by air.

“When we went to Danba, for example, we had to fly to Chengdu where we put up the night. Then we rented a car and travelled two more nights to get there,” Hon said, adding that his group of four friends were stunned to see the beauty of Jiaju village, which in 2005 was voted the most beautiful in China.

Hon also had to trek up to a village in Tibet for several hours as some of the villages were inaccessible by road.

“In fact, I had to buy a much lighter camera before the trip. I am not young anymore so I cannot carry too much on my back up the mountain,” he said in jest.

He also remembers a trip to Inner Mongolia where he lost his appetite due to mountain sickness, with temperatures dropping to -30 degree celcius.

“Some places were so rural that I had to stay with the locals. I must say that the folks we met were extremely polite and welcomed us with open arms,” he said, adding that as foreigners, they needed to adhere to certain basic rules such as not being too kiasu when they see a good opportunity to take a picture .

“Sometimes, we tended to get too excited when we see a good picture opportunity that we will step on their crops and become insensitive to local traditions. This should be avoided at all times,” said Hon.

He said photographers also needed to be careful to ensure their camera was not exposed to extreme conditions as this could cause it to jam or wipe out pictures that they had painstakingly taken.

“To be a good photographer, you need to have loads of patience. I must admit that luck also plays an important role as the saying goes being at the right place at the right time,” he said.

Asked why he decided to publish the photographs of his travels, Hon said it was primarily to allow more people to know the existence of these places.

“I want to capture these images as things keep changing at a rapid pace these days. For example, China of today is so different from the China I visited five years ago,” he said, adding that it was also pointless for him to keep these images to himself.

Hon’s next project is to capture the beauty of the many interesting places in Malaysia. For this, he plans to visit several sites, particularly on the east coast, before he can complete it.

“Photography has been a very enriching experience for me. Before this, I never used to bother about the weather.

“Today, I’ll stop and watch the rain and appreciate nature’s beauty,” he said, adding that photography had also brought him a lot more closer to nature.

Hon said although his bilingual book was not yet available at bookstores, those interested to get a copy could go to www.hon.com.my or www.hpcameralens.com for details.

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