Photos of America from Another Perspective

I don’t need to tell you smart readers what globalization looks like, but clearly it can be amusing at times to see what parts of American culture get transplanted into other countries around the world (at least when it isn’t sad).

Here is a peek at a few images Jeffrey has created over the years showing what happens when American taste lands in other parts of the world.

Photo of the Hard Yak Cafe in Lhasa, Tibet

Lhasa, Tibet (selling yak burgers on the roof of the world).

Photo of McDonald's in Beijing, China

Beijing, China

Photo of Denny's in Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo, Japan

Superman in Beijing, China

Beijing, China

Photo of a knock-off Chicago Bulls sweatshirt in Beijing, China

Beijing, China

M & M Billboard in Moscow, Russia

Moscow, Russia

Photo of a Visa sign in Vietnam

Saigon, Vietnam

Photo of a Marlboro billboard in Shanghai, China

Shanghai, China

If you had one wish, what aspect of American culture would you want to share most around the world (if any)? My guess is that it wouldn’t be the Marlboro Man.

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Universes Collide THEN…. Mgunga Magic NOW

THEN: UNIVERSES COLLIDE (Excerpt)

Photo of a Pilgrim at the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet

A pilgrim at the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet © Jeffrey Aaronson

September 1988: Arriving back home in Aspen after nearly two months in Asia, Jeffrey craves nothing more than a real breakfast and good coffee from his favorite restaurant. He’s eaten little more than jasmine rice and vegetables for weeks in Tibet and has lost so much weight he has to tighten his belt two notches.

Sitting behind the steering wheel of his white Saab in the crisp autumn morning, he turns the key, only to hear the tired revolt of neglect.

“Shit.”

He tries again.

The battery is dead.

Having no desire to jump it, he decides instead to knock on the door of his friends, David Hiser and Barbara Bussell, three condos down. He knows David will let him borrow his van to drive into town for breakfast. Being a photographer himself—often working for National Geographic for months at a time—David knows all too well what it’s like to come home from a long, grueling trip.

As Jeffrey knocks on the door, then watches it slowly swing open, his eyebrows fly up. “You’re not David,” he jokes as he stands face to face with a young brunette.

Portrait of Becky Aaronson late 80's

Becky Green Aaronson, late 80's

“You got that right,” she chirps.

“Well, what have you done with David?” Jeffrey laughs. “Should I be worried?”

The young woman tilts her head and smiles, mischief sweeping across her face. “I’m not telling.” Then she crosses her arms and leans one shoulder on the door frame. “What do you want with David anyway?”

“I was hoping to borrow his van. I just got back from Asia and my car battery is dead.”

“Hmmm…Well, David’s in Mexico right now and Barbara’s in Bhutan, and I can’t loan out his van to somebody I don’t even know,” she says, looking at him like he’s just been let out of an insane asylum.

Jeffrey, while slightly annoyed, can’t help but laugh at her feisty attitude.

Portrait of Jeffrey Aaronson

Jeffrey Aaronson, late 80's

“Who are you, anyway?” she grills him as she eyes his dark leather bomber jacket, noticing how it accentuates his chiseled chin and five o’clock shadow.

Taking off his sunglasses, he flashes his green eyes. “I’m Jeffrey. Jeffrey Aaronson. I’m David and Barbara’s friend and neighbor. I’m a photographer, too. Now tell me who you are…and what you’re doing in their house.”

“I’m Becky,” she laughs as she shakes his hand, feeling a slight flutter in her stomach. “Do you want to come in? It’s kind of a long story.”

.    .    .    .    .    .

NOW: MGUNGA MAGIC

September 2011: When I look back at my photograph from more than two decades ago, first of all I can’t believe I’m sharing it with all of you. “Big hair” was definitely not a good look, but that was the 80’s, baby! Mostly though, I can’t believe how young and green I was when I took off on my improbable adventure to Aspen.

That same thing struck me again this summer when we were in Aspen visiting our friends, the Carpenter Family. Not only were we back in the Rockies again after having moved to Santa Barbara several years ago, but we were in the exact same condo where I first met Jeffrey.

You see, our friends Curt and Cindy Carpenter bought David Hiser’s condo in the early 90’s and have lived there ever since. For many years Jeffrey and I lived and worked a few doors down from the Carpenters, and vividly remember when their daughter Cornelia was born twenty-two years ago.

Portrait of Cornelia Carpenter

Cornelia Carpenter, author and illustrator of Mgunga

This summer as I looked at Cornelia’s shining face during our visit, it struck me that I was exactly her age when I moved to Aspen. On one hand, it seemed impossible, but on the other hand, I could see in her eyes what I felt when I was her age: the enthusiasm of a recent college graduate filled with drive, knowing the whole world was out there waiting for her.

This girl is well on her way, too, having already published her first illustrated book, Mgunga: A Day in the Life of an Umbrella Thorn Acacia. Inspired by her semester abroad in Kenya, she created a book of illustrations well beyond her years. And now she has just returned from a project in Australia.

When I watched my daughter, Olivia, gaze at Cornelia with awe when she handed her a signed copy of her book, I witnessed Cornelia unknowingly paying it forward and inspiring a 7-year old—just by being a brainy, adventurous, and creative role model.

I feel compelled to share a few images with you from Cornelia’s book because there’s no doubt in my mind this is the beginning of a brilliant career. In fact, if I ever find time to write that children’s book I have bumping around in my head, I know who I’ll be calling for the illustrations.

All illustrations ©Cornelia Carpenter 2011. You can click on the images to view them larger.

Mgunga Book Cover

Mgunga Book Inside Illustrations of Babboons

Mgunga Book Illustrations of Giraffes

Mgunga Book Illustration Owl and Elephants

Here’s to Mgunga Magic…and to being twenty-two…and to having the whole world out there waiting for you. And to those of us a wee bit older, here’s to remembering that feeling, and knowing anything is possible….even the improbable.


Worlds Away THEN… Gratitude NOW

Photo of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, TibetTibetan pilgrim spinning prayer wheels in Lhasa, TibetTibetan Monk at the Jokhang Temple in LhasaTibetan Pilgrims at Tsurphu Monastery

Photos of Tibet: The Potala Palace in Lhasa, a pilgrim spinning prayer wheels in the Barkhor, a Buddhist monk at the Jokhang Temple, and pilgrims waiting to be blessed by the Karmapa at Tsurphu Monastery. All images ©Jeffrey Aaronson.

THEN: WORLDS AWAY (Part One)

August 1988: I don’t know my husband, Jeffrey Aaronson, yet. He’s photographing on the Roof of the World in Tibet. I’ve just graduated from college in Portland, Oregon, and when I’m not working at my job as a bookstore maven or sending out resumes trying to wrangle a real job in the fields for which I’ve just spent a bazillion dollars earning my degrees, I’m tossing back beers with friends, listening to U2 and training for my first Olympic-distance triathlon.

Jeffrey has called Aspen, Colorado home for the past decade, but spends most of the year traveling around the world, living his dream as a photojournalist. I don’t even know what my dream is yet for sure, but the restless pull of life has me aching for adventure. And the tug of my pen has me writing it all down in journals. Even though I would never call myself a writer at this moment, I do realize that I cannot not write; that I’m compelled to dance with words in some form or another, even if I’m just scribbling down musings for myself.

During that hot summer of 1988, Jeffrey’s and my worlds are so far apart—both literally and figuratively—it’s impossible to believe that they will ever collide. But then something so improbable happens, the only way to look at it is fate or kismet…or any of those other sappy words we hate to admit make our skin tingle…

  • Read Part Two in my next post from THEN. I promise I won’t leave you hanging each time—that’s way too annoying. If you’re interested though, stick with me and you’ll soon find out how this improbable couple met.

NOW: GRATITUDE

August 2011: I don’t know whether to be horrified or humored, but more than two decades later I’m still tossing back cocktails with friends, listening to U2 and training for triathlons.

Becky Green Aaronson at the Santa Barbara Triathlon

My biggest little fan after the 2010 Santa Barbara Triathlon

Well, at least in between being a wife and mom, a domestic goddess and a social coordinator for my family…and when I’m not being tortured by Justin Bieber as I taxi sweet Olivia back and forth to camp or play dates…or when I’m not trying to heal a nagging back injury which has left my running shoes in the closet for the last five months (but that’s a whole other story).

And then of course, there’s the writing. Though it has taken me much longer than I care to admit to finally jump into the world of writing professionally, here I am…at last…a writer…writing my book, The Art of an Improbable Life, as well as magazine articles, and now this blog.

Jeffrey Aaronson driving Mabel, his 1959 Rambler station wagon

Jeffrey and Mabel

Jeffrey has been on too many wild adventures to count, but has magically circled back where he started—immersed in an art project about Tibet, trying to use the power of his photography to make a difference in the world. That is when he’s not feeding lettuce to our daughter’s tadpoles or cooking a fine meal for his family or tinkering with Mabel, his 1959 Rambler station wagon.

So much has happened in the last twenty-odd years—from the life changing to the banal, from the heart wrenching to the absurd—I get vertigo every time I think about it.

But one thing for certain, Jeffrey and I know we are living the dream, and we don’t take it for granted. We are both filled with gratitude for all the things that have happened in our lives—from the extraordinary people we’ve met to the friends we’ve made, to the nutty and loving families we have supporting us on both sides, to the numerous improbable moments that have swirled into this life we call our own.

Even on days when my greatest challenge is picking up yet another pint-size pink clothing item off the floor or answering a mind-numbing mountain of questions, I know I’m lucky. Ridiculously lucky. It’s all about gratitude, and appreciating that the improbable has happened for a reason, even if that reason isn’t always clear.

Portrait of Jeffrey and Becky Aaronson