Think good thoughts…

Scrambling for a better view.

I spent a significant part of this weekend photographing the Chinese New Year celebrations in Johannesburg and the greater Gauteng area. It is not a date I have paid much attention to in the past, particularly since most of the Chinese people I ever have contact with are the various shop keepers and restaurant owners around the city. But this year I wanted to practice my photography, so with a bag full of lenses I went first to the Old Chinatown at the bottom of Commissioner Street in the CBD on Saturday night, and the Nan Hua Buddhist Temple in Bronkhorspruit on Sunday morning.


Both were lots of fun, although very challenging to photograph and I learned a lot about my own limitations and sadly that of my current camera. While running around and constantly changing lenses I also learned quite a bit about various Chinese traditions and the Year of the Dragon.


What I really liked is that this is the time that Chinese people dedicate to spending with family, and for many it is the only time during the year that they will see them. A few months ago someone told me I should watch a documentary called Last Train Home – it follows the lives of one Chinese family where the parents work in the city while their children live in the countryside with their grandparents. Once a year, ahead of Chinese New Year, the parents, together with hundreds of thousands of others queue for days at the train station for tickets, spend a few days at home, and then have to queue again to secure tickets to return to the city where they earn a living. It is a heartbreaking story and particularly relevant for South Africans, where many families still rely on migrant labour for income.


I have been to the temple several times before, although there have never been more than 10 other visitors there at the time so it was completely overwhelming to see hundreds (if not thousands) of people at the temple complex yesterday, which is about an hours drive from Johannesburg. I strongly recommend it to anyone living in or visiting Johannesburg both at New Year time and on a quiet Sunday morning. It is a very warm and welcoming place and they put a lot of emphasis on learning about various cultures. It was very interesting to note that both in the CBD and at the temple the majority of people were not Chinese but South Africans from all walks of life.


During the opening ceremony at the temple we were encouraged to take away three teachings or commandments – think good thoughts, speak good words, and do good things. I will be trying to do just that this year.


Hand painted personal messages on fans.
The remains of crackers.
The main temple at Nan Hua.
The dragon team preparing at Chinese New Year in the Joburg CBD.
People release lanterns with their wishes into the Joburg sky.
A performer at the festivities in the CBD.

167 comentarios en “Think good thoughts…”

  1. I think I might just print out that mantra (“think good thoughts, speak good words, and do good things”) and tape it to my wall — beautiful reminder of what humans should practice on a daily basis!

  2. My significant other and I met in a class teaching mandarin, so we’ve always celebrated the Chinese new year to remind ourselves of our beginning. It’s so great to read about other people learning about the culture and getting into it! Your photos are amazing, and I hope you had so much fun!

  3. Nice column. I’ve been in Beijing for the last two New Year’s celebrations. The city feels like a totally different place during the holiday because so many people leave to go home. You can actually get a seat on the subway!


    1. Hi Jimmy, I’ve been wanting to go to China for many years now. I can’t wait to see the cities but I would love to see the countryside too. My friend who recommended the documentary told me some amazing stories – like on morning they were driving past what seemed like a massive deserted suburb with multi-lane highways and he asked why no one was living there. His host replied that these were to accommodate the people who would be flocking to the city in the next few years. That is mind boggling.

  4. Beautiful Photos and wonderful message. Definitely a good reminder for the day, “Think Good Thoughts, Speak Good Words and Do Good Things.”

    Thanks for the tip about the Documentary too, I will definintely make a note to see that.

    Happy New Year!

  5. That’s awesome! Here the Koreans seem to spend it mostly with being around their families, so if there’s any cool celebrations like these, well then I haven’t seen them.

    1. Well as I mentioned a lot of the people at these festivals weren’t even Chinese and I think it’s a great opportunity to learn more about the culture. During many of the speeches or addresses the dignitaries highlighted that and I couldn’t agree more.

    1. Hi Bethany, thank you for the kind words about my photos. I agree with you yet so many parents around the world have to do that to make ends meet, particularly in countries with a long history of migrant labour. In the documentary you really see the effect it has on the parents relationship with their children.

  6. Hi Kasia:

    Great photos and great post! Thanks for the reminder for this new year, “think good thoughts, speak good words, and do good things”. I checked out your other photos too. I really liked the shots of your dog. So lovely!

    Best of luck with Project 365!

    1. Thank you, really appreciate your feedback. Alas the sausage dog isn’t mine but a friend’s – real cutie. My dog is a white boxer, there are one or two photos of him on Flickr somewhere. He lives with parents though and he’s got a nerve problem. Best dog in the world though.

  7. I’m glad you found these beautiful teachings and shared them with us. I have a 4 year old and this seems to be the kind of thing that can be easily shared. In the same way that my mother repeated to me the ever important mantra of clean hands: ‘wash your hands before eating and after using the bathroom’ :). ‘Think good thoughts, speak good words, and do good things’. I will print this as well and put it next to my computer at work. Good words to start my day and to lean on to as I go. Thank you!


    1. Thank you – I love the effect too but in many cases it was because I was shooting on very high ISO and it made the pictures a bit noisy – the black and white looks cool with a bit of grain so problem sorted!

  8. Remarkable isn’t it, how much we can change our lives by that simple mantra? Excellent post =)
    Want to see a simple and funny ZEN? Please visit FeedzeSoul – thank you in advance.

  9. Limitations of your camera? Wish I even had one. Smiles! I’m sure in game for ‘thinking good thoughts, speaking good words and doing good deeds’. Nice pictures really and a very organized use of words!

  10. I love that you mention “Last Train Home.” It is a very powerful movie that deals with the struggles that families of all kinds can go through – just imagine how much harder it is during such a massive migration.

    Even if sometimes we don’t recognize that our family misses us when it reaches out, times like Lunar New Year remind us how important it is to take some time out of our busy lives and just be a mother, a father, a son, or a daughter again.

  11. I will be checking out that documentary you mentioned..its hard to imagine families where not everyone sees each other every day. we here in america take it for granted sometimes. thanks for sharing and love the pics.

  12. Call me ethnocentric or a bit dense, but I honestly had no idea that the Chinese New Year was celebrated all over the world the way it is. Your post and the accompanying pictures have helped to illustrate that culture is everywhere, and that the Year of the Dragon is being celebrated in every time zone.

    I also wanted to comment on one thing you said about the Chinese appreciation of family – we could all learn a bit from that. Thanks for this post, and the reminder. Take care.

  13. “think good thoughts, speak good words, and do good things” simple rules to live by yet so hard to do. The photo with the “the remains of crackers” theme is so imposing. Its like watching a thrilling movie, i can hear the sounds it makes.

  14. 新年快樂!萬事如意! Happy lunar new year! 🙂

    “think good thoughts, speak good words, and do good things.”
    I think that’s the best advice for the new year. I couldn’t agree more.

    My husband is Taiwanese and we celebrated lunar new year by having a romantic dinner together. I hope to one day celebrate lunar new years in Taiwan. 🙂

  15. I really like those last few night images you shot. They’re perfect! What clarity and color you were able to capture.

    My son was in a Chinese Lion Dance last year. I was able to get a few photos when I escorted the team around. It was a great experience for him and quite physical.

    Thanks for sharing your images.

    1. Hi Yogaleigh – thank you for the warm feedback. I guess I am a harsh critic of my own work but I am very happy with the photos. Just know they could always be better. Hope you will visit the blog again.

  16. In the past three years I have been to China 7 times volunteering on a Migrant Labour Rights project so am very interested in the seeing the film you recommend. I have come to appreciate many things about the Chinese culture including the importance of family. I look forward to some day celebrating the Lunar New Year in China.

  17. I was at the Bronkies celebration and all I can say: What an experience! That is how a new year celebration should be spent. As for the Think Good Thoughts idea- I would call that a B.A.G: Big Audacious Goal for 2012.

  18. Beautiful Pics, and a remarcable insight into Chinese Culture. In Peru we have the third most important Chinese inmigration in the world. Its part of our being now, and were very proud of it. Keep blogging, your style is also wonderful!

  19. Amazing photography, I especially love the fan being painted and the remains of crackers. You’re very talented, I’m glad I found you on Freshly Pressed! Your post made me wish that I could’ve appreciated the Chinese New Year more.

  20. Those three lessons are a good reminder about the path to a simple and joyful life. Thank you for sharing! And your photos are beautiful…whatever the limitations of your current gear, you’ve got a great eye.

    1. Hi. Well my camera is great, its just in really tough conditions that it becomes evident that its the entry-level model.But I have been looking at buying a Nikon D7000 very soon and having two camera bodies which is great at an event like the chinese new year where you want to get some great wide angle shots and some lovely portraits with something like a 50mm prime lens.

  21. Beautiful photographs! I must admit, I didn’t realise there was a significant population of Chinese people in South Africa! It’s great to see the CNY holidays being celebrated in such diverse regions of the world!

  22. Lovely pictures, I must say. I remember watching the trailer of that Chinese documentary. It distances family and yet they have no choice but to work in the city. It is a common phenomenon in many countries. Sometimes, the children want nothing to do with their parents. Its sad.

    1. Thank you. The documentary was really heartbreaking. Migrant labour is such an issue here in South Africa. 1 in 3 children live without their biological parents who go off to work in cities while they are raised by grannies or aunts.

  23. Your photos are stunning! And love your blog. I actually found Last Train Home on a national newspaper website (The Age, Australia), and ended up watching it as I was studying immigration/migration at uni at the time. Not surprisingly, CNY is the largest human migration in the world with 130 Chinese migrant workers returning home to celebrate the New Year. Amongst those millions of people, the film focuses on one family and their struggles, etc, and it’s truly touching. Definitely recommend it! All the best!

  24. This is an amazing article! I just get impressed how the Chinese culture is all over the world… and everyone tries their best to be part of it! Great pictures and great mantra… love it!! Will def start following you! 🙂

  25. Wow, a Chinese temple in Johannesburg. Cultures really do spread far and wide, and they bring their people and their traditions along with them. I find it sad that about the only time these people get to spend with their family is the New Year, but then again, it’s good that they do at least have one time in the year they can.

    – Ashley

  26. Beautiful photos! Thank you for sharing such a unique experience – makes me want to be there! Such a lovely perspective on a different culture’s priorities for Americans like us who need to put more focus on family sometimes. Looking forward to delving more into other parts of your blog – these titles look intriguing!

    I was wondering, which photo was your favorite to take?!

    1. Thank you so much for the amazing feedback and I do hope you enjoy the blog. My favourite photo to take was the one with the remainder of the crackers because I planned that in my head first and it came out just how I wanted. Many of the others were snapped very quickly as the action was happening or I was too far away for the pic I really wanted.

  27. Oh wow! Never even knew there were a buddhist temple in GP, let alone chinese new-years celebrations, lol.

    The think good thoughts idea is great. Much better than the usual “I will quite smoking this year” resolutions that I know will not transpire 😛

  28. I think I could really use the “think good thoughts” part. It would make a huge difference on my life.
    Going to China must be a wonderful experience, I hope I have that chance one day!

    1. Yes and I think it’s an easy trap to fall into. Sometimes I used to catch myself looking at some girl and thinking ugly things just because she was very pretty. Over the past two years I have made it my goal to be a lot nicer to other women, especially in my own head. It makes you feel much better too because it takes a lot of energy to be miserable and thinking negative things about other people.


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