Surreal Photos Onboard A Chinese Cruise Ship

There was a surf simulator, rock climbing, and jogging tracks.

by Chris Round
01 November 2016, 8:56am

Chris Round is an Australian photographer, based in Sydney. Much of his work explores spaces without of people, while unmistakably shaped and scarred by them. From derelict glasshouses in Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens to abandoned hospitals and empty Australian landscapes.

Chris' most recent series Cruise was shot on board a Chinese cruise ship while on a three-day trip from the Baoshan port in Shanghai to Hong Kong, with a short stopover in Okinawa, Japan.

VICE asked Chris to talk us through his nautical photo diary, the isolation of being a non-Chinese speaker amidst 4000 others, and why cruises are becoming so popular in China.


VICE: Hey Chris, your photos paint this cruise ship as a sort of surreal mini world. What was it like on board?
Chris Round: The ship was enormous, one of the largest at sea: 18 decks high, 2,000 rooms. Yes, it was a kind of mini world, a floating resort/Westfield with lots of restaurants, bars (including an English pub), a couple of theatres, a casino, galleries, cafes, and a shopping mall. Walking around the inside you'd barely know you were on a ship. It carried about 4,000 passengers and about 1,500 staff. 

What did people do for fun?
It's interesting because a cruise holiday in China is often a shared family experience, with the younger (more affluent) family members paying for their parents and grandparents to go on the cruise. So, there were a mix of intergenerational family groups, young families, couples, and some groups of younger people. On the deck areas the younger passengers were more active, taking part in things like the surf simulator, rock climbing, and jogging tracks. The older passengers spent more time relaxing by the pools and spas and taking in the view. On the inside the music theatres were very popular with all groups, as were live bands, karaoke, discos, and the casino.

Are cruises a big thing in China?
Cruises are becoming very popular in China and will only grow in popularity from here. I think this is due, in part, to the social transformation that has taken place over the past few decades. The growing wealth of the middle class allows them to experience more Western-style holidays, like cruising.

Many older people probably haven't been overseas before and they want the easy and all-inclusive experience that a cruise holiday offers. Another factor in its popularity might be that cruising is a status symbol to many Chinese, particularly from the inland regions.

I assume you don't speak Mandarin or Cantonese. Was being on this cruise a pretty isolating experience? 
This was my first ever cruise, and being on a huge ship with 4,000 Chinese people was quite surreal in many ways. But I was there in a work capacity (writing a commercial for the China market) so I was with a few people I knew, including a translator if needed.

Having said that, the other passengers spoke no English whatsoever so I certainly felt like I was well away from home, but in a positive way. Being one of a handful of Westerners on the cruise did make us somewhat of a talking point at times. The passengers were incredibly curious as to why I was on a Chinese cruise, while at the same time being very genial towards us. I lost count of the amount of group photos and selfies I was part of.

What was the experience you were trying to capture in your images? 
Because many of the internal spaces felt like a ritzy shopping mall or an interior from a resort, I really focussed on the outdoor activities and deck areas, and also the covered pool and spa areas. These were spaces where the passengers seemed quite relaxed, away from the more crowded interiors, breathing in the fresh air, taking photos, and enjoying the views. I wanted to convey a sense of journey through the ever-changing seascapes, views of the ports, and the different aspects of life on deck in the cool East China Sea air.

What was your favourite activity on board? 
Because I was there in a part-professional/part-artistic capacity I didn't get too involved in the activities, and simply observed the goings-on through my lens. However, I must confess that a couple of colleagues and I spent one late night line-dancing with fellow passengers to a four-member Chinese Jackson 5 cover band. Totally hilarious and very surreal.

Interview by Maddison Connaughton. Follow her on Twitter.