The Virtuous Villain Hitters of Causeway Bay

Villain_Hitters002     Under the flyover at Canal road and Russell street, below the towering skyscrapers of Causeway Bay, five old ladies slam slippers against bricks, beating small papers back to the pulp they once were. They are performing a quintessential Hong Kong ritual that translates to “villain hitting” where people come to repel the figures of bad luck and wrongdoing in their lives. Vengeful mistresses, “jealous wives”, and employees looking to expel a rotten superior from the office are some of their most common clients.Villain_Hitters003     Two of the older ladies performing the rituals, Leung and Aunt Yan, have set up their shrines solo. They seem to have a bit of a grudge against the other three ladies who sit together in the center of the platform. Leung and Aunt Yan independently tell me that the ladies in the center just want to get rich and that it is“no good”. “Those ladies convince people that they need all kinds of services, up to $500hkd” warns Yan, “I only ask $50hkd to hit and $50hkd to ask the Kwun Yam for good fortune, that is all that is necessary most of the time.”Villain_Hitters005     Leung, who is 82, will not tell me her full name. “If I do that, my competitors”, she says, motioning towards the three ladies in a row, “may find out, and that way they can use my name to demon-hit and negatively affect my business.”

“So you really believe in the rituals?” I ask.

Leung does not directly answer me, she says that people come back to her over and over, happy with their results, so that is what matters to her. “You know, I am famous all over China for my hitting” says Leung from behind a nearly toothless smile.Villain_Hitters015     Dr. Joseph Bosco, an expert on religion in Hong Kong and South China, says that Leung’s and Yan’s analysis of their work is typical of Hong Kong spirituality. “Even Hong Kong residents who consult other types of fortune tellers often go to such diviners with a mixture of skepticism and credulity and curiosity. So it is hard to talk about it as a matter of “faith.” Only Christianity and Islam focus on “belief” and “faith” as markers of belonging. Chinese and other popular religions tend to focus on efficacy, and tradition.”

According to Bosco, old ladies have been villain hitting under the flyover since the 80’s, and it wasn’t new then. This modern variation of the service has humble beginnings, “In the past, when people lived in more densely networked communities and neighborhoods, there would be people who were known to offer such services in the neighborhood, and took only donations, with no set price” says Bosco. The ladies at Canal Street serve strangers, old friends, and tourists alike.Villain_Hitters014     These women clearly have a conscience about their work, and hitting for strangers complicates this. Leung has a special pair of dice that she rolls to determine whether the individual in question is actually a ‘bad person’. If they are not, and if there are no inauspicious spirits to repel, Leung will suggest a ritual to promote good luck.

While chief executive Donald Tsang was in office, it became extremely popular to ‘hit’ the chief executive. Tsang now sits in a cell in Stanley prison, serving a 20 month sentence for corruption..  Leung says she no longer will oblige requests to hit politicians, “They are public officers with important roles, I think it is not good to hit them”.Villain_Hitters013Villain_Hitters001     Aunt Yan exercises her conscience in a somewhat motherly way. A woman in her twenties came to Yan to ask that her manager who had ‘scolded her many times without reason’ be fired. After the second visit, he was indeed fired. The young woman returned to thank Yan near the end of the lunar year. “It is not good to be fired just before the lunar holidays, he may have a family to support” says Yan. “So I asked the young lady to light incense for Kwun Yam – one to secure her own good fortune, and one for the manager to make sure he and his family will be okay.”Villain_Hitters008     Leung, who has been hitting and blessing for a decade, has her own stroke of grandmotherly wisdom. When I ask if she would use the service herself, she replies, “I have the Kwun Yam to bless my soul, I don’t need to hit bad people. The main thing is that you are kind-hearted, that way you don’t need to pay attention to the bad people in your life. Just be kind-hearted.”Villain_Hitters010















BRAIDS_01     BRAIDS, a Montreal based Art Rock band, reminded the independent music community of Hong Kong to show support for local music – especially in the face of opposition. As vocalist Raphaelle Standell-Preston sound checked her guitar, a bevy of Police entered the foyer of the industrial building housing the quite literally Hidden Agenda, an Indie music venue facing legal scrutiny over it’s atypical location. The police momentarily held up the show, requesting to enter, and demanding permits, or the ID of the owner – neither of which were provided. A throng of attendees gathered around the exchange, cell phones and cameras in hand to document the episode. Unable to enter the premises without a permit to do so, the police disbanded and the show resumed.                                                                                                                    As the audience re-assembled, Standell-Preston spoke a few words about the importance of local venues in her own life, and asked the crowd to stand with Hidden Agenda in their fight for legality.  Hidden Agenda’s itinerancy has come with rising rents and strict zoning regulations that disallow performances in industrial spaces. Local musicians and touring Indie artists would be hard-pressed to ask the ticket prices that allow mainstream venues touting famed headliners to exist in the authorized venues abounding in Central.  As a city with a high price on live music, venues like Hidden Agenda  are vital to the emergence of local music and the propulsion of Indie artists in Hong Kong. Though the Industrial Building Revitalization Act, which makes such venues illegal, threatens the venue’s existence, fortunately, it has been unable to eliminate the welcomed cultural safe space.                                        BRAIDS_02BRAIDS_03BRAIDS_04BRAIDS_05BRAIDS_06BRAIDS_07BRAIDS_08BRAIDS_09BRAIDS_10BRAIDS_11BRAIDS_12BRAIDS_13BRAIDS_14BRAIDS_15BRAIDS_16BRAIDS_17BRAIDS_18BRAIDS_19

Whistler Nights

Wanderlust_Night01Amazing performers all around. From DJ’s to Acro Yoga, so slack liners, I was repeatedly blown away by the inspiring artists of Wanderlust Whistler. We danced our nights away. Photographing the experience was a pleasure and a privilege.




















Wanderlust by Day

Wanderlust_Day01Wanderlust Whistler was a flurry of AcroYoga, art, play, amazing music, rock climbing, jumping in lakes and rivers, new friendships, and attempting to meditate and falling asleep in the summer heat.. Being a guest “PhotoJournaler” pushed me to try new things like the adventure race, which has me running around Whistler Village in sandals for an hour trying to keep up with the teams, and laughing as they completed their tasks. I am extremely grateful for the people I met and the places we went. Rivers and Roads.























What Makes You Feel Beautiful.

I recently did a freelance job that I enjoyed immensely. The project was about diverse visions of beauty, so I went to the streets in Seattle, mainly downtown and Capitol Hill, and took portraits of passers by and asked them the question, “What makes you feel beautiful?”

Here are a few of my favorites. 

(Photo by Viola J. Gaskell)Jesse Duvall – Whatever is going on in my head makes me feel beautiful. (Photo by Viola J. Gaskell)Kenneth Loiseau – Acceptance of weirdness makes me feel beautiful.                            Annabelle Petry – Brushing my teeth makes me feel beautiful.

(Photo by Viola J. Gaskell)Lady Krishna – Externally accessories make me feel beautiful, like this hat and my glasses. Really, my internal self makes me feel beautiful, my inner life.

(Photo by Viola J. Gaskell)James Smith – What makes me feel beautiful is my personality.          Calen Osara – What makes me feel beautiful is when I’m complemented.

(Photo by Viola J. Gaskell)Elsa Bloedon – Being in the sun makes me feel beautiful.

(Photo by Viola J. Gaskell)Stella Constellation – The thing that makes me feel beautiful is my contour. And my heels, a girl always feels pretty with a contour and some heels.

(Photo by Viola J. Gaskell)Amanda Sloan – My outfits make me feel beautiful. I design my own stuff, so I like to design things to fit my body, and it makes me feel comfortable.

(Photo by Viola J. Gaskell)Dennis Saxman – The absence of a mirror makes me feel beautiful.

(Photo by Viola J. Gaskell)Julius Haywood- What makes me feel beautiful is my nice teeth and my hair.

(Photo by Viola J. Gaskell)Antoinette O’neill -What makes me feel beautiful is my accomplishments, big and small.

(Photo by Viola J. Gaskell)Dean Stepanek – My wife makes me feel beautiful. My beautiful wife, every day.

(Photo by Viola J. Gaskell)Kasey Atabniki – Feeling strong and comfortable makes me feel beautiful.

(Photo by Viola J. Gaskell)Vanitti Fair – My friends make me feel beautiful. I think the attitude of the people you surround yourself with can either make or break a person.

(Photo by Viola J. Gaskell)Yuya Izumi – I am a Buddhist, I think feeling empty makes me actually feel beautiful.

(Photo by Viola J. Gaskell)Rebecca – My shoes.                                              Somaya – My surroundings make me feel beautiful. I try to find something beautiful wherever I am.                                 Shelby  – My shiny earrings make me feel beautiful.

(Photo by Viola J. Gaskell)Breckenridge Lanning – A theme to an outfit makes me feel beautiful, like dressing to go to school and wearing glasses, superfluous glasses, but wonderful none the less.

(Photo by Viola J. Gaskell)Reiko –  I feel beautiful when I’ve had a few beers with my friends.                                                                  Mio Sei – Music, I feel beautiful at concerts

(Photo by Viola J. Gaskell)Tracy Healy – My red hair makes me feel beautiful.

17James_GrattonJames (Jimbo) Gratton – Being acknowledged makes me feel beautiful.

(Photo by Viola J. Gaskell)Chase Roselli – What makes me feel beautiful? Her.                        Sam Buchanan – Clean teeth make me feel beautiful. I have a thing about teeth.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         (Chase, “Oh yeah, that’s her to a T.”)

(Photo by Viola J. Gaskell)Nate B. – Button up shirts make me feel beautiful because I feel clean and ready for the day, like I can get things done.

Seattle Lately


I’ve been living in Seattle for six months now, and it’s high time I posted pictures of a few of my favorite visuals around the city. Easter Sunday, Pike place, the Convention Center, and of course the bus. It’s a lovely place to be so far, especially now that Summer is here! Happy Solstice!





















Deception Pass


In April my dad caught the ferry over from the Peninsula  and we drove North to Whidbey Island’s breathtaking Deception Pass where we camped for a few days beneath the trees. We played guitar by the fire, walked on the beach that was just beginning to warm up, and hiked inland to where the wild flowers were waking up. It was a peaceful weekend. On the way back to Seattle we stopped for breakfast  in the quaint town of La Conner where the Tulip festival had just taken place. We missed the crowd, but stopped at a field on the way home, just the way I like it. The tulips were gorgeous, and I liked the daffodils just the same. I haven’t seen my dad too much the past 10 years or so. It was nice to dash out of the city with the old man. Deception_Pass_02










Silver Falls


Silver Falls is a spectacular waterfall. It was refreshing to get out of the city and trek down to Oregon to spend a few days with old friends on vacation from the Hawaii life. This hike was one of the hi-lights.











Playing with 2x exposures. OR_Post24



The Teanaway

Teanaway Valley 
Down a worn two-lane road just past Cle Elum, stands the old farmhouse we visited each summer when my brother and I were mere saplings. Now we are grown, and the farm has aged, but I remember it like yesterday. We’d pile in my grandmother’s red and while Volkswagen with her Terrier Piper in the back, and drive east. 
In Roslyn, we’d stop for ice cream cones that would melt in the heat and drip down our wrists only to be eagerly licked away.      Days were spent playing bocce ball in the back yard.     Daydreaming in the hammock beneath the Cherry trees in the front yard.       Picking apples that we knew weren’t ripe, and biting into their tart skin anyway.   Walking down to the river and submerging ourselves in the cool flow. I liked the texture of the slippery then grainy sandstone beneath my feet.      Tinkering in the attic. Thumbing through the dusty National Geographics, in awe of the photographs.      
Hannah and I spent hours in the Vardo, a wood-paneled caravan in the barn. We imagined ourselves as gypsies, that our hands had painted the delicate wild flowers on the wall, and that the small bed was where we took respite after days on the road. We made up words to songs we hadn’t heard.    Races up the sandhill left abrasions on our hands that we never minded. As night settled in we’d sit beneath the pines and listen to coyotes.      
Now there are no children playing. The  bikes in the barn sit idly, their seats cold. The kitchen smells of stale disuse. No scent of cherry pie wafts this time of year.  There are pieces of gray tape with names written on them adorning the furniture. The afternoon sunlight slips in between the drapes.   I’ve never been to the Teanaway in March. It’s quietude is disarming. I drift into nostalgia, preferring it to the present stillness.      
My parents were married here in the field that turns to a blanket of purple flowers in Summer. I’m told it was beautiful. My brother once said he might like to do the same. It won’t be ours then. Or our parent’s.  It will be gone. We will have only the stories and the photographs. 






















Pushkar_post01Pushkar was the last place I went in India. In this small city of lakes and mountains I said goodbye to people I’d come to love, and spent some time alone for the first time in weeks. This is a passage I wrote on the train en route to Delhi, freshly aware of my dwindling time in India. It describes my thoughts more adequately than I am often able to voice.

                  Here in the Sun Country, people die beside the highway, the starved horses are tethered to shopfronts to bear their ribs, and marriages are made not proposed in passion but they seem to last. There is no black and white, no wrong and right. There are colors that teeter between beautiful and offensive, and love is not clothed in hard to get or take your time attire. The films are danced, the shoulders covered, and the stares unapologetic.  These spices have been acquired by my tongue, this music likened by my ears, and the vibrant silk wrapped around my skin. I have been enveloped by India, and no longer do I resist it’s motherly tongue, dusty floor, and persimmon colored sun. This has been my home now, and I unabashedly give it my love.