Ellis, Epiphanies and Photography

Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno),” – Ellis, Adams and Bocher 2011.

In my previous post, with the benefits of hindsight, I narrated a past cultural experience. This was the beginning of an autoethnographic story. The analysis of both the experience and how I communicate my experience reveals my cultural framework. Once I recognise such frameworks and the related points of epiphanies,  will I be able to see how my cultural framework structures my project investigation.

I begin my previous post sharing a personal feeling. When reading back on my post, I can remember being hesitant in sharing this information. I know that it is normal to feel conscious about sharing feeling on a public space, but the fact that I did not shy away from the core of my project work shows that, when it matters, I am able to use language to openly communicate. The nature of an autoethnographic narrative encourages this emotive storytelling. It was interesting to do this in an academic context where we are usually not encouraged to share our feelings and personal bias.

I then in my previous post discuss how I regard travel. It is obvious from the beginning that I am using travel as both a way to recharge my personal batteries and also as an escape. I mention my passion for travel and that I value my privilege as a white person. This idea of being me describing myself as a ‘white person’ was interesting to read. I am a very brown female with curly black hair, raised in a very brown family. And in my day to day life in Australia I pride myself on being vocal about racism in Australia as I do often notice the differences (both good and not so good) of being a person of colour in a very white costal town. Here I realise that many aspects of my life, for example my medical care and travel access are defined by the constructs of my life as an Australian, not as a migrant in a white country.

I narrate that the first structured activity I do when arriving in a country was a visit to a historical site. Reading my previous post I reflect to recognise I was raised with the idea that to understand, respect and enjoy a culture, I must learn about their history, from their perspective, in their land. This is something that I have always done as a solo traveller, but did not previously recognise it was something that stemmed from familial travel routines.

I have always valued art. I grew up in a house of classical Indian music, foreign films, so much food from different parts of the world and different languages of literature. As a child there were many reasons I disliked travel with my parents – we never went to theme parks or stayed in luxury hotels,, Instead we were focused on history, art and food. I moved out of home at 17 and thought that I had left my parents travel habits behind (I do love rollercoasters and the very occasional night in a fancy hotel), but they had taught me so much about how to travel.

This cultural framework, being primarily my life as a first generation migrant and my rooted familial values, is what has structured my project. My access to travel and style of travel lead me to Cambodia and the S21 Museum. It was here that I was exposed to the nature of photography in Cambodia.

While epiphanies are self-claimed phenomena in which one person may consider an experience transformative while another may not, these epiphanies reveal ways a person could negotiate “intense situations,” – Ellis, Adams and Bocher 2011.

Autoethnography identifies these epiphanies as points of understanding. To put simply, it is only when something stirs or changes that we can recognise a shift. When reading the beginning of my narrative, it is clear that I had one of these epiphanies pushing me to seek something. It was an ‘intense situation’ that demanded reflection and action. At the time, my shift was to travel. In Cambodia I had epiphanies about how strong humanity can be. And about how humanity shares their emotional experience. It is this that inspired me to also use photography as a way to communicate loss.

…writing personal stories can be therapeutic for authors as we write to make sense of ourselves and our experiences,” – Ellis, Adams and Bocher 2011.

Writing and reading the previous post does feel therapeutic. Using photography as therapy is an extension of this autoethnographic expression as a form of therapy.

This TedxTalk by Bryce Evans provides an investing presentation on photography therapy and how it can help a person navigate through their mental health. Bryce Evans says in this video that – “Everyone knows how to take a photo…photos allow you to connect instantly on an uncurious level, without the stigma to of it (‘it’ being mental health),”. HIN both my previous post and the paragraph above, it is clear that I value maintaining a healthy mental health and believe creative outlets can help me achieve this.

My values framed by my family, my experiences as a migrant, unfortunate ‘intense situations’ in life, my love of photography and focus on mental health has evidently structured my DIGC330 final project.

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1. Available at: http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095


Everything Asia: K-Drama

Coffeehouse conversations.

Emergence of an idea…

This week I was drawn into the world of K-drama, with an off-hand comment from my university lecturer, I decided I wanted to delve into the weird and wonderful world of Korean drama TV.

I searched the internet for “best Korean drama” and ended up watching a few episodes of The Heirs which felt immensely influenced by its American co-producers. With the vast majority of dialogue in Korean, the scenes at first appear genuinely Korean, however the series progresses to provide a stronger resemblance to a teen drama such asThe O.C.with petty drama, betrayal and sunny California peppered throughout.

Heading into this experience I can safely say I didn’t/still don’t, possess a wealth of knowledge in regards to foreign TV and each culture’s subtle spin on the dominant Hollywood narrative style. So when I experienced The Heirs although it was different, it didn’t feel different…

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Final Reflection

The Pink Protagonist


The concept behind this project was to find a way to explore autoethnographic research, focusing mainly, on Asia. For this, I picked a well-known Japanese horror commuter game called ‘Corpse Party’, as I had already watched the short TV series that was made based on the game. Some of the reasons for this choice in the game came down to my love of the horror genre, and a desire to see if I could play a horror game (because I am such a wimp when it comes to horror games). But also, to see if the game itself reflected Japanese culture. This would then lead to further research into the game, and eventually into reading Asian Urban legends which became the focus of the next part of my project.



In the beginning, it was all about wanting to try my hand at a ‘Let’s play’ video. I have…

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This Cambodian Life

I find that my sense of curiosity and wonder peaks when life takes unexpected turns. One such peak occurred earlier this year, late May. A time that forced me to dig into the dark of my stomach and pull out the reserve of energy and hope I hold within me. And although these few handfuls of memories and aspirations fed me through to the end of semester one, I could feel my tank was emptying. And so, like many other privileged first world citizens, I felt the prick and itch to travel. To a space where no one knows me. Somewhere away. Something new.

I soon found an internship in Cambodia and bought a plane ticket. I love how the soles of my feet buzz when getting on a plane, excited to soon be touching unfamiliar earth. And so while many travellers take the obligatory selfie at the Sydney airport Departures sign, I take a picture of my feet.

After several disappointing airport coffees and a room temperature spinach tart, my plane number is finally called. I have never been able to sleep on planes, so instead I re-read for the umpteenth time my trusted Lonely Planet guide to Cambodia. Like many travel guides, the accompanying photographs are stunning. Tantalising street food stalls. Lush green temples. Rich red dirt roads. Streets that scream colour. Bars that promise fun. I could not wait to be living the photos and take pictures of my own.

Photography, specifically travel photography is a personal interest. It is not the pictures that I value, but the moment that it brings – the ability to take me back to a moment so vividly.

After an eighteen hour journey, I arrive in Phnom Penh. Inside the airport it is hot and the customs officials are not welcoming. Outside the airport the locals are smiles and waves. I leave the buzz of the airport and make my way to the side street to find a tuk tuk. I only have one hour to check into my hostel, shower and be ready for a tour of the S-21 Museum and Killing Fields.

The first photographs I saw of Cambodian life taken by Cambodians was at the S-21 Museum. A place that was first a school – a prison and torture centre during the Pol Pot regime – now a museum sharing the harrowing experience. A stark contrast to the photographs in my travel guide. It was here that I learned how the Pol Pot regime destroyed almost all photographs taken before their reign.

While in country, I started looking for local photographers and photo galleries. I spoke to the artist as often as I could and none of them had photographs pre-1975. If a solider found a photograph during a regular raid someone could be killed – the cost of holing onto the physical photo was too risky.

There are many Cambodian photographers who now dedicate their art to documenting their day to day lives, exploring their personal and community identity.

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Vandy Rattana  photographs the every day life of Cambodians. The photographs capture the rebuilding of physical structures, land waste, poverty, office life, family life and meal times. The photographs have philosophical and historical purpose. The image below is a photo of a construction site.

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Neak Sophal photographs the experience of Cambodian women and poverty post Pol Pot. In the picture above, she frames the colloquial Khmer saying, “No rice for pot,”.

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Vuth Luyno photographs the experience of the modern LGBTQ community in Cambodia. The younger population are more likely to accept LGBTQ individual but there is much discrimination and many elements of taboo. In the picture above, he aims to communicate the normalcy of gay relationships – to the right is Sitha’s family, to the left is a recreation of a memory.

Sitha, pictured on the left , describes the context of the memory she chose to reenact:

“I met my wife during the Pol Pot regime when we were digging a canal opposite each other… During rice transplanting month, I went to ask for some salt from her, but she refused…During harvest month, we met again and started to talk, and we fell in love… This love is difficult, because they didn’t let us meet… After 1979, we didn’t get married properly but we created wedding rituals. I play the role of head of the family, as husband and with her as a wife, and we have adopted three children—two daughters and a son—and have six grandchildren. My children call me dad, and my grandchildren call me granddad.””


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Pete Pin has conversations with individuals about their life, then takes a portrait that captures the story and intentionality of the person. In the photo above, he was interviewing his Father.

Cambodia for me was a place of learning and love. It was also a place where I was reminded daily that this is a place of loss. As a field NGO researcher, every conversation I had with a local citizen would inform me of the horrors of their war. Almost every family had lost one or several members to the regime.

Here, I learn that modern photography is important. It documents their lives, shares their experience and the work that needs to be done. There is vulnerability and at the same time strength.

There is no way to measure or compare sadness and suffering. So I would like to begin this paragraph by saying that my personal life can never compare to a genocide. Inspired by these photographers, I would like to create a photography portfolio for my final DIGC330 assessment. As a student in my final semester of uni and a women working through loss, I want to document this section of my life. I am hoping to include both pictures of my day to day life, landscape and portraits to create this portfolio.

Photographs are all the courtesy of the artist and found here. I was not able to write about all the artists, but I highly recommended visiting both the site above and the site here.

Culture of Counterfeits.

B. Jones


Counterfeit culture has been growing in popularity in many Asian countries, especially China. But why has it grown so much, why is it so popular and how hard is it to land some counterfeit goods. In order to explore the culture of counterfeit, I must first get to grips as to what exactly is counterfeiting.

Counterfeiting is the practice of replicating an already existing product in order to take advantage of the status of the brand or product being imitated. Counterfeiting is hugely popular not just among those selling it but among those buying as well, as of 2012 counterfeit goods accounted for $250 billion in sales (Unodc.org, 2017). And as of 2015 “The global market for counterfeit goods reached $1.77 trillion” (Ling & Juan, 2016).

Through researching this counterfeit culture in China, I have become aware of a term used for this copycat manufacturing known as “Shanzhai”.  “Shanzhai has…

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Mia, Mel & Ceren’s presentation on Marketing & Advertising Practices of Skin Whitening products in Asia



Chow, J 2014, ‘In Asia, Men’s Skin Care Takes Off’, The Wall Street Journal, web article, 28 May 2014, viewed 8 October 2017, https://www.wsj.com/articles/in-asia-mens-skin-care-takes-off-1401320768

Eagle L, Dahl S, Low D 2014, Ethical issues in the marketing of skin lightening products, Proceedings of the Australian and New Zealand Marketing Academy Conference, pp. 75-81.

Gahu Ray, S 2010, ‘India’s unbearable lightness of being’, BBC News, web article, 23 March 2010, viewed 8 October 2017, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8546183.stm

James C, Peltzer K, Pengpid S 2015, ‘The globalization of whitening: prevalence of skin lighteners (or bleachers) use and its social correlates among university students in 26 countries’, International Journey of Dermatology, 15 October 2015, viewed 8 October 2017, < http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ijd.12860/full&gt;

Youtube 2013, Racist whitening drink Ad, online video, 3 May 2013, viewed 8 October 2017, <

Youtube 2015, Skin Whitening Commercials, online video, 18 August 2015, viewed 8 October 2017, <https:www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QDB7mqCjRI&>



Group Project: Asian dragons as Arts


I consider this project to be an extension of my own graduation project: to rebrand an Asian (Vietnamese to be specific) restaurant called Little Vietnam. The reason why is because when I perform researches on various topics to acquire additional knowledge in order to be able to approach the rebranding in various direction, I came across the possibility of appropriating traditional arts that are distinct to their respective cultures, as graphic elements that would constitute a unique brand identity, helping the restaurant to gain an advantage when compete with more established brands.

From that point, as I continue with my research, I realised the importance of dragon in Asian cultures and the way such creature was used as a big topic for traditional Asian arts. Thus, this project sets out to scrutinise the utilisation and perception of dragon in Asian cultures arts.

So what is a dragon?

Dragon is a creature born of myth and legends, depicted in various ways across different cultures. In Western cultures, dragons are usually the antagonists: they kill humans, wrecking havoc on kingdoms, stealing treasures and kidnapping princesses, they are the subjects for heroes to terminate. In Eastern cultures however, they are often regarded as deities, capable of granting miracles, helping humans and are highly intellectual. Their appearances are usually associated with creatures of serpentine, reptilian or avian traits, meaning that they either look like a lizard or a snake and can fly.

Since dragons are essentially myths, it is impossible to determine the exact or even relative date of its invention as a concept, but since the word dragon, which derived from Draco (Latin) and Drakon (Greek – a massive flying snake), was added to the English vocabulary, we know for a fact that Dragon has long been existing in people’ minds.

The focus of this project is to learn the different ways dragons are depicted in different Asian cultures, thus it is important to learn the significance of this creature, what it means to the people of that region. Aforementioned, dragons are subject of worship in many Asian cultures and are often used to determine the highest hierarchy in many different classification systems. For example:

  • Kingship was strongly associated dragon: the king was regarded as the dragon, or the dragon’s son. His/her clothes were embroidered with dragon patterns, the throne was decorated with dragon sculptures and all of his tools (stamps, room, crown, etc. were decorated in similar fashion).
  • Gold was considered to be the dragon’s colour because of its value and rarity.
  • In China’s justice system, the tool of execution, guillotine, often has three different blades: the dog’s blade for executing commoners and non-government personnel, the tiger’s blade for killing people in power like government officials and nobles and finally, the dragon’s blade, reserve only for the decapitation of people in the royal bloodline.
  • Dragon is also used to represent strength, Japanese soldiers and other combatants often tattooed themselves with dragon drawings.

Chinese dragon

China is arguably the most influential culture in the Asian region due to the vastness of its land, the richness of its soil and the sheer number of its people, which translate to superior military might, thus having amount of influences on other Asian cultures. Therefore, the Chinese dragon can be seen as a prototype that other cultures used to develop their own dragons by adding other unique traits from their own cultures (Ernest et al. 2013).

Dragon in Chinese culture represents strength, luck and royalty. In fact, several medieval Chinese empires use dragon as the symbol of their realms (Frank 1997). The image of Chinese dragon is essentially the combinations of various quirks from a collection of animals that are native to the land. For instance, the thin and long body of a snake, coiled in circles, the head and tentacles that resemble that of a catfish, scales of a Chinese carp, hands of the turtle and fangs of a carnivorous beast (Frank 1997).

Japanese dragon

They way Japanese people  view dragon is very different compare to the rest of Asia. Indeed, while there are dragon deity in Japanese folklore, most of them are depicted as not so much villainous and malignant but troublemakers. And as such, their depictions contain alot of “human-like” traits such as mischievous eyes and grimaces. Japanese dragons are usually humans who encountered mysterious forces and thus became the animal, they often served as the representation of hardships that must be overcame, unexplained forces of nature as well as the exaggeration of human emotions that must be suppressed. Hence, in the paintings, the Japanese dragons are never the main focus, utilised as a narrative graphic elements to more clearly convey the authorial intents, mounted or partially covered by the main subjects of the painting such as humans or covered by a light shade of shadow (as presented in the presentation).

Korean dragon

Korean dragons for the most part are very similarly depicted to the Chinese dragons due to the aforementioned influences of China. However, the image of Korean dragon is actually based off of the eel, thus strongly associated with the element of water and has long tentacles protruding from the nose area as “beard” (Roy 2007). Korean dragon in paintings do not usually fly but swim due to the said association. Therefore, the scales of the dragon are often the focus of the illustration, being made up of exactly 81 scales due to the significance of number 9 (an essence of Yang) in the Korean culture (9×9=81). Moreover, Korean dragons always hold the Yeouiju (여의주) orb in its mouth, a divine item that can be rewarded to humans for their good deeds, granting various miracles (Roy 2007).

Vietnamese dragon  

Vietnamese dragon’s appearance is somewhat peculiar compares to the standard Asian dragon set by the Chinese. While its body still stretches long like the other ones, its torso is usually drawn to be extremely thick due to the fact that ancient Vietnamese perceived the concept of “dragon” as something that resembles an earthworm, an animal whose existence is beneficial for agricultural activities. While the scales are still drawn similarly to that of a carp, its head is abnormally big, depicted in very simplistic manner with exaggerated features and like big, round, pupil-less eyes.

Furthermore, all of the Vietnamese dragon drawings demonstrate the animal in a flying motion thanks to the animal’s link to the myth of ‘ascension’ in Vietnamese culture. According to this myth, at the end of every year, any carp fishes who managed to overcome the fierce battle of swimming upstream and reach the sea will be bestowed with the divine gift of becoming dragons, ascending to heaven and live with the gods: an educational way of saying never give up and give it your best shot. Therefore, many of the dragon drawings in Vietnamese folklore are about a carp transforming into the dragon, half-fish, half-dragon.


From these research, two illustrations will be made. These two original dragon drawings will try and combine all the characteristics of the many version of dragon drawings and produce something original yet still authentic and harbours cultural values.



■Ingersoll, E et al. 2013. The Illustrated Book of Dragons and Dragon Lore. Chiang Mai: Cognoscenti Book

■Kramer, S 1961. Sumerian Mythology: A Study of Spiritual and Literary Achievement in the Third Millennium B.C.: Revised Edition. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania A Greek-English Lexicon

■Mallory, J 2006. The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. pp. 436–437

■Dikötter, F 1997. The Construction of Racial Identities in China and Japan. C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd. pp. 76–77

■Aston, W1896. Nihongi: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to A.D. p.697

■Gould, C 1896. Mythical Monsters. W. H. Allen & Co.

■Bates, R 2007, All About Chinese Dragons, China History Press