February 1, 2017


Filed under: social and economic development — Tags: , , — cohn17 @ 10:44 pm

the foundation operates a number of schools in the neighborhoods of las golondrinas. during my visits, many of the students wanted their portraits taken.

i got to see a variety of activities: sports day (which included dance lessons), geography lessons, art lessons, computer classes … overall, the kids seemed engaged and happy. watching them rush into the school after their lunch break was pretty amazing – they were excited to be back. there also was a team of students from a private school who came by to distribute donations of rice to the neighborhood. (unfortunately, my spanish wasn’t good enough to get the full story on this.)

the schools offer free dental care for students, courtesy of the local dental school.

Momenta's Project Colombia 2016

the school’s rooftop playing field needed rehabilitation. the staff had the idea redo the field with rubberized material and sell advertising space on it to whomever would sponsor the work, since passengers on medellín’s cable cars would see it every time they passed over.

school construction, managed by foundation architects.

next: little kids

January 21, 2017

medellín, colombia

Filed under: travel outside greece — cohn17 @ 1:07 am

after leaving chengdu, i flew straight to medellín, with an eight-hour stop in athens to pack a suitcase (to replace the one that was still in beijing, but that’s another story). i went to medellín to attend a workshop on photographing with nonprofit organizations; my “client” was la fundación las golondrinas, a social services organization that provided child development services, education support, small business technical assistance, and other programs in the low-income communities of medellín.

like rio de janiero, the low-income areas of medellín are located in the hills above the city. the view is spectacular, but the conditions in the street are rough.

the city and the foundation have sponsored a lot of community improvements, but not everyone has been able to take full advantage of them.

Momenta's Project Colombia 2016 Momenta's Project Colombia 2016

staff from the foundation told me that in these neighborhoods, there can be 8-12 members of a family living in one small apartment or shack. as a result, family members often suffer from abuse – physical abuse, substance abuse, sexual abuse. one way that the foundation tries to counter these problems is through its animal therapy program: social workers introduce children who have suffered abuse or trauma to therapy dogs, and the children learn first to confide in the dogs, and then to social workers. the dogs also work with children with mobility impairments, by leading the children through simple obstacle courses. (there is a video about the program here.)

each week, the program staff bring a dog to one of the local schools where they introduce him to the children, and then engage in a few skits and demonstrations. in one of the demonstrations, the program staff show the children a picture of two children fighting over a toy, and two children sharing it, and ask them to pick which situation is better. the dog then selects the “nice” picture. during one of the demonstrations i saw, the dog had to choose between a fighting family and a loving family, and instead of choosing the picture of the loving family that the children called for, he picked the fighting family; the staff were surprised, but i covered by calling out “he’s taking the bad picture away!”

the children meet the dog. the dog plays mailman during a skit (and gets a lot of snacks for his work!). with the help of a laser pointer, the dog picks the right picture. a child reads a simple illustrated description of the program.

next: schools

January 19, 2017

new websites

Filed under: general — cohn17 @ 6:33 pm

I’ve started a website for my non-profit-oriented work,, and redesigned

December 4, 2016

truck furniture maker

Filed under: street photography, travel outside greece — Tags: , — cohn17 @ 1:43 pm

as in many countries i’ve visited, having an english-language t-shirt is a status symbol; it doesn’t matter what the t-shirt actually says. i passed a woman on the down escalator while i was going up whose t-shirt read “TRUCK FURNITURE MAKER.”  (there actually is someone called “truck furniture maker” on Facebook, so maybe she is also a truck furniture maker; but she probably isn’t.)

other notables included the woman with the “VENICE BTACH” t-shirt; the sweet-faced, adorable young couple on qingsheng mountain wearing t-shirts reading “WE LOVE TO DO THE WILD THING” and “YOU FUCK’N ASSHOLE” – and my favorite:

if anyone knows what this is supposed to mean, let me know.

December 3, 2016

le shan and the giant buddha

Filed under: travel outside greece — Tags: , , — cohn17 @ 4:03 pm

on of the weekend of the mid-autumn festival, i took the train to le shan, home of the giant buddha. the le shan buddha is more than 1,200 years old and was carved into the cliff facing the confluence of the three rivers flanking le shan. the statue is 71 meters tall, the largest stone buddha statue in the world. each ear alone is 7 meters tall.

first, some street photography, including a photo of what appears to be the largest cucumber i have ever seen:

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i went to the buddha park on the sunday of the weekend, and it was a cold, rainy day. also, because there had been some days off for the mid-autumn festival, the government had decreed that sunday to be a workday. as a result, when i arrived at 7:30 am, i was the only person there. imagine taking the ferry to the statue of liberty and being the only person there except for the maintenance crew: it was like that. instead of having to wait the typical two hours to get down the stairs to the base of the statue (and then wait for the selfie-taking tourists to move on so you can take your own selfie with the statue), i had the whole place to myself.

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beyond the buddha is wuyou temple, founded during the tang dynasty (a.d. 618-907). the most interesting part of the temple is its hall of 1000 arhats (buddhist saints). the hall is filled with terra-cotta statues, each individually molded and painted. the temple doesn’t allow photography inside – and they have cctv to monitor it – but i couldn’t leave without getting at least a few shots.

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next: t-shirts.

November 21, 2016

street photography in chengdu, sort of

Filed under: general — cohn17 @ 9:41 pm

as i was running around the streets, taking photos, i was struck forcefully by how many people were using their phones to take photos. more generally, i noticed how many younger people in particular had their eyes fixed on their screens, even when they were in groups. at the risk of sounding like an old fogey (and a hypocrite), this struck me as a serious problem. if steve jobs had wanted to enslave the population by turning them into appendages of technological devices, he succeeded.

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as something refreshingly not telephonic, here is a photo of two girls and their dad playing with a parakeet at the song xian qiao antique market:

November 12, 2016

temples: daci temple

Filed under: travel outside greece — Tags: , , — cohn17 @ 10:40 am

so, i’ve blogged about food, and i’ve blogged about pandas … what’s next? temples. mount qingcheng had taoist temples, but there were plenty of buddhist temples in and around chengdu as well.

first, we’ll look at daci temple, which is located in downtown chengdu. daci temple was built approximately 1600 years ago, and is now surrounded by high-rise buildings. the day i visited, there was some kind of celebration going on, possibly related to the mid-autumn festival (what we think of us the mooncake festival). the place was mobbed with people lighting candles and burning incense, listening to a buddhist monk preach, and generally hanging out.

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next: street photography in chengdu

November 7, 2016

more about food

Filed under: travel outside greece — Tags: , , , — cohn17 @ 4:40 pm

in my first post, i mentioned sichuan hot pot. hot pot is a meal of meats and vegetables cooked on skewers in boiling, flavored oil. the best hot pot restaurant i visited had a brightly-lit refrigerated room full of food – as elegant as anything i’d find at trader joe’s, if trader joe’s did hot pot – and aprons on the back of each chair.

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most of the time, it was obvious what the meat on the skewer was. but not always; just because something is “chicken” doesn’t mean it’s the part of the chicken i normally eat.

this was a pretty nice hot pot place, as they go. others were less fancy. and then there were restaurants that i didn’t want to try at all.

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the markets had a lot to offer, too, including a good place to nap during the day.

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the most interesting “destination” restaurant i visited was in the city of le shan, a few hours away by train. le shan is the home of a giant buddha statue carved into a cliff (more on that later), and my guidebook included a listing for zhao family crispy duck:

foodies flock to this tiny barbecue stand for its speciality – sweet, crispy roast duck (jin ¥22). the draw is the skin, which is best described as duck candy, a miraculously ungreasy bite of heaven. eat it while it’s hot – in the middle of the sidewalk with your bare hands, if necessary.

naturally, i went. it was not “miraculously ungreasy,” but the proprietor hands out cellophane gloves with the bags of duck, so i could indeed eat it in the middle of the sidewalk. i didn’t get a “pretty” shot of the duck, but it was pretty awesome.

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so, food. eating is a pretty intimate affair – you can be elbow-to-elbow with the next table, or with passing cars, but everyone’s gonna eat. and for my money, a plate of pork dumplings with chili oil is about as close to heaven as you can get.

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November 6, 2016

playing outside

Filed under: general — Tags: , , , — cohn17 @ 4:08 pm

does it look like there’s a haze in the air? there is.

after a week, i returned to chengdu, to begin work.

the state department measures the quantity of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone, and suspended particulate matter in the air at its china missions and publishes an air quality index daily.  for most of the time i was in chengdu, the air was rated “unhealthy,” with index values over 150 and particulate matter concentrations of 50 μg/m3. (as of the date that i’m writing this, the aqi in chengdu is 186; by comparison, the new york city region’s aqi is 38.) i was warned off exercising outside, but even just walking to work each day, i felt a slight burning in the back of my throat. i got used to the sensation fairly quickly and forgot about it, which was a good thing, or it wasn’t, depending on how you look at it.

of course, when you live with this kind of air day to day, you get used to it and don’t let it hold you back. i saw lots of people enjoying the outdoors, particularly at night.

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mahjong under the 2nd ring road overpass public personal grooming
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swing dancing in front of the mall picnicking and ballet further up the street

next: something about food

November 1, 2016

the back side of mount qingcheng

Filed under: travel outside greece — Tags: , , , , — cohn17 @ 2:01 pm

whereas the front side of the mountain is known for taoist temples, the back side of the mountain is known for hiking. there are 20 km of pathways up and across the backside of the mountain.

scenes from tai an, the old town at the foot of the mountain:

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there wasn’t much sun on the day i went, but there was a lot of green.

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apiaries; lots of waterfalls; prayer flags

there are food vendors along the paths to cater to the hikers (also selling toys to distract the kids from being dragged up the side of a mountain). one of the snacks they sell is a pancake made from ground corn, freshly cooked in a wok. delicious.

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whereas the front side of the mountain is dedicated to taoism, the temples on the back side are buddhist.

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a few more shots of the hiking path:

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ferry across the lake. a good place to draw.

next: chengdu

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