“It started when I was very young; I always knew I had to go to China one day. For years I deepened my knowledge about that fascinating country. I could say I had literally read everything in existence about China before going there. When I was doing my studies in geography and third world countries, in the eighties, China was a very closed country. You could not just visit the country as a tourist. Against our expectations, a colleague from my university and I received a private invitation from the Chinese government to come to travel in China for nine months. By that time, China was transforming their commune system towards a more private system. Chinese people didn’t want to work at the countryside anymore. By inviting us, the Chinese government showed their interest in our research on the effects of privatization and the dissolution of the commune system on green conservation techniques. By hearing all the responses of my friends, family and colleagues, I realized that traveling through the countryside of China was very unique during these days. My family and friends all came to the airport for my farewell. It was terrible saying goodbye, going through the gates all by myself.”
“Back then, the airport in China was tiny. I saw Chinese red flags everywhere. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs came to pick me up. It was a beautiful spring day. We drove on a long two-lane road in the Chinese countryside, heading towards Peking, with big trees at both sides of the lane. I remember seeing the sun shining through these large trees, looking at the farmers working in the fields. I had never felt so calm inside. It felt like coming home, as if I already knew this country by heart. During nine months of traveling, we visited many local villages. The villagers hadn’t seen any foreigners for years. When we entered a restaurant, it got packed with locals that came over to look at us. Although we were strangers for them, the government let us free to connect openly with all the villagers. After the research I returned to China many times. I worked as a travel guide in China for years, feeling very comfortable in the Chinese culture. I always loved to share my local Chinese network with the travel groups that I was showing around. It was my goal to create experiences for travelers, that could connect with their personal interests. In my opinion, you’ll take these kinds of experiences with you for the rest of your life. I remember that after six years of going back and forward to China, it worked out the other way around; I needed two buses for all my Chinese friends who wanted to say farewell to me. And in my home country, nobody came to pick me up anymore. That’s impressive, right? When you put time, energy, interest, openness and curiosity towards another culture, it turned out to pay it back to you in the end.”
Check out Stan Klinkenberg The Photo-Human Project to see the beautiful pictures Stan is taking during his sabbatical year!