Freedom by Paul Choy

In Amsterdam, it the bicycle which rules the streets not the motor car. It is pedal power which moves the city, not oil.

Cars have become so entrenched into our daily lives, it is hard to imagine that they really are a very modern invention. Our world has existed for millions of years. Humans have existed for hundreds of thousands of years. The motor car has existed for just a hundred years and yet already it dominates our planet.

Huge road networks now span the globe. Planning where to park all the cars now dominates the thinking behind every new building. And the fumes pumped out by the billions of cars we own have made the air virtually unbreathable in cities all over the world.

And yet, despite all this, we remain totally addicted to our cars.

We have become so obsessed with them, we use them for journeys which make no sense. We will sit in a traffic jams for an hour to make a journey we could walk in 20 minutes. We will sit in them alone, side-by-side with other people all alone in their cars, all travelling to the same destination.

We know it makes no sense, and yet still we do it. Why?

There is no doubt the motor car is a wonderful invention. It has brought us so much convenience, helping bring people together, helping people to explore. But like all technology we have to learn that sometimes is it ok not to use it. That sometimes pedal power makes more sense.

It is a lesson they have certainly learned in Amsterdam and personally, I envy the freedom it has brought them.

Empty Streets by Paul Choy

Have you ever noticed how the world never seems to slow down?

Everything always seems to happen at a breakneck speed. There are never enough hours in the day; never enough time to feel we are totally in control. If only we could finish that last job, we think to ourselves, we will finally be on top of everything, only to have that feeling snatched away when we realise there is always one more job to complete, always one more task to undertake.

An ordered existence constantly seems so tantalisingly close and yet always just out of reach as we find ourselves trapped in the chaos of every day life. And yet, there is order out there. We just have to go out and look for it.

Wandering the deserted streets of London, at 5am before the rest of the world stirs, is a surreal experience. In just a matter of hours these very streets will be packed to bursting point, as huge crowds of office workers who adhere to the rhythm of the corporate world which tells them when to arrive, when to leave, when to eat, and when to work.

But before that hour, just for a short window of time, the city belongs to whoever wishes to claim it. It becomes an oasis of peace in the heart of chaos, a private playground for anyone wishing to follow the beat of a different rhythm.

The truth is, the reason the world never seems to slow down is because we choose to live our lives at that speed. And there is nothing wrong with that. Many people enjoy the exhilaration of life at that speed. But every now and again, it is worth reminding ourselves that it is ok to slow down occasionally, so we can enjoy the empty streets of our lives.

Unspoken by Paul Choy

The fishermen work, their words unspoken.
Each one knows their role, each one knows the role of the other.
They work in harmony, practiced, like a well oiled machine.

There is no engine on their boat, no power beyond the wind in their sail.
Their knowledge of the ocean is their power. Navigating the waves to seek their reward.
They work in silence, and yet everything is understood.

Courage by Paul Choy

At just 19 years old Abdulazez is already one of the most inspirational people I have ever met.

Originally from Syria, Abdulazez is one of the millions of people forced to flee their homes as war and conflict arrived uninvited into their lives. I first met him in a desolate, miserable refugee camp in Northern Greece. He came charging up to me excitedly, after hearing my broad English accent.

“Are you a journalist?” - he asked.

“No, no” - I replied, well aware that journalists were looked upon with more than a degree of mistrust within the camps.

“It’s ok, I don’t mind if you are a journalist. I just want to practice my English”.

And so started an unlikely friendship.

I say unlikely because, as Abdulazez was quick to chastise me, shortly after assuming his self-appointed role of my translator, I hadn’t actually taken the time to get to know any of the people whose stories I was sharing.

Sure I had photographed many hundreds of people fleeing the war-torn regions of the Middle East, and I had listened to the stories they had to tell me, but just a quickly as I had captured their portraits I was moving on to the next camp, and the next set of experiences. What I hadn’t done was taken the time to find out who those people were, as individuals not refugees.

As Abdulazez pointed out to me, hearing their stories is easy, living their experiences is much more difficult.

And so, as we made our way through the camps of Northern Greece, Abdulazez shared his experiences with me. He asked me to imagine life in his shoes. He had been happy in Syria. He had been studying to become a graphic designer and wanted nothing more than to follow his dream of becoming a digital artist. Instead, his family found themselves forced to flee the country they loved, and making the treacherous journey to the safety of Europe.

And yet, despite the challenges he faced, he never seemed to lose his passion for life, or his dreams for the future. Determined to make the best of every situation, he set about learning everything he could, from anyone he could. He taught himself English in less than a year. In less than two years, he was teaching English lessons to other refugees, explaining concepts of the language which would challenge many native speakers.

He has become a voice of the people, whose voices had been lost within the crisis. And his voice is strong.

The video of his open letter to Donald Trump, entitled "Dear Donald", has been viewed by more than 13 MILLION people around the world.

And his Through Refugee Eyes photography project has captured the experiences of the refugees in a way only someone who has walked in their shoes could do.

Today he has found the safety he seeks, in Belgium, where he is busy building a new life for himself. Within days of arriving, he bought his a book on the Flemish language and set about learning his second language in as many years.

It is that determination to simply get on with life, no matter what, which inspires me most about him. At just 19 years of age he has already stood up to challenges most of us could never imagine. And he has done it with a smile on his face. It is a smile I have rarely seen him without. It was that smile which was the subject of one of the first things he ever said to me, something I will never forget:

“Just because we smile, it doesn’t mean we aren’t crying inside”.

The world needs more people like Abdulazez, people who aren’t afraid to smile and cry at exactly the same time.

Sugar Loaf Mountain by Paul Choy

Watching the sun rise over the rounded incline of Sugar Loaf Mountain, it is impossible not to get swept up in the atmosphere of Rio de Jeniero.

Home to around 6,000,000 people, Rio is definitely not somewhere to get away from the crowd. Isolation is an impossible dream with so many people crammed into a single city. But there is something about the vibe of the city which makes everyone your friend.

Even in the dark, sat on top of a desolate mountain top waiting for the sun to make its appearance so I could take this photograph, I was soon joined by the small group of people passing by for a morning walk.

Sharing their coffee with me, we soon found ourselves in such an engaging conversation. I very nearly missed the shot I had been waiting for.

That was my experience all over Rio de Jeniero, where the carnival spirit lives on as much in the hearts of the people as on the streets of the city.

Why? by Paul Choy

We need to have a conversation about homelessness.

All across the world, from New York to Cape Town, London to the Kiev, people hurry about their daily lives, hardly noticing as their fellow human beings prepare a bed of cardboard boxes and plastic sheets.

Although often blamed, it neither over-population nor the lack of space are the cause of homelessness. There are empty buildings going to waste in every city of the world, after all. Rather untreated mental health problems, the break down of families, drugs and alcohol abuse, and a thousand other tragic issues cause people to find themselves living on the streets.

Throughout the development of our modern society, we have seen humanity accomplish some truly amazing achievements. And yet, somehow putting a roof over the heads of those most in need is not one of those achievements.

The conversation we need to have is, why?

International Women's Day by Paul Choy

We shouldn’t need an International Women’s day.

We shouldn’t need to set a reminder, telling us that March 8th each year is the day when we recognise the achievement of women. We should be recognising those achievements and contributions every day of the year. And yet, we don’t.

Why is that?

We can’t blame ignorance. We can’t say we didn’t know how much women have achieved, because we do.

We can’t blame the media. We can’t claim they aren’t doing enough to highlight the role of women in the modern world. That shouldn’t need to be highlighted.

And we can’t blame society, because every society simply reflects the values and opinions of its members.

The reality is that we don’t adequately value the achievements of women because we simply choose not to. That isn’t to say tremendous improvements haven’t been made. Women have access to more opportunities today than ever before. And yet we still need to do so much more. The glass ceiling is still as much an issue today as it ever has been.

And so, on International Women’s day 2018, we once agin take the briefest of moments to consider the achievements of women all over the world. But, in doing so, let us recognise the real women in our society. Not the celebrities, whose fame is glorified every day. Instead, let us consider the actions of the everyday women, who do so much to contribute to our communities.

Women like Soobawti who, at nearly 70 years of age, is still working from sunrise to sunset, to provide for her family.  When I first met her, she was carrying an seemingly impossible load of grass on her head, which she told me she had cut that morning for the family goats. She doesn’t do this for the recognition or the rewards.

And yet, it is exactly women like Soobawti who we should be rewarding, who we should be recognising, until the day finally comes when we no longer need a special day to do just that.

Stepping Out by Paul Choy

It is easy to stay in the comfort zone of our lives, but sometimes real reward is best achieved by stepping out into the unknown.

Consider this fisherman. Unlike all the other fishermen, who were grouped on the rocks which line the shore, he was standing alone, way out to sea when I first noticed him. The tide was low and so the water within the lagoon was only around waist hight, but still I wondered what he was doing so far from the shore.

Walking out to join him, the depth of the water varied from place to place. Sometimes it was shallow and then suddenly deep. It was hard to tell where to step, the water obscuring the path ahead. Finally reaching him, I asked him why he choose to come so far from the comfort of the beach.

"Because the fish are here" he answered.

Such a simple truth, and yet still requiring the question to be asked in order to be understood.

In life it is too easy to just remain in our comfort zone, hoping the rewards we seek will simply come to us. But as this fisherman teaches us, sometimes we need to step out into the unknown to seek those rewards out for ourselves.

Memories by Paul Choy

I have lost count of the number of times I have found myself standing on this very spot, staring up at Big Ben. It brings back so many childhood memories, as I remember the feelings of wonder and excitement, as I waited for the famous bells to chime.

Many years may have passed since those childhood days, but the those feelings are just as strong as they ever were.

PEM by Paul Choy

I am so inspired by artists, especially those who have carved out their own, unique style. PEM is just such an artist, and carving his style is literally what he has been doing for decades.

One of the most renowned sculptures in Mauritius, his distinctive carved wooden statues have an almost mystical quality about them. I was intrigued where he found the wood for his beautiful statues.

“I don’t find the wood”, he informed me thoughtfully, “the wood finds me.”

Such an artist is truly special.

The Artist by Paul Choy

Art is all around us. It is in everything we see, everything we hear, everything we touch and everything we feel. Art is whatever we want it to be.

Each of us is an artist, in our own way. Whether it our scribblings on a page, the stones we arrange in the dirt, or the sounds we make as we bang a drum. Every time we interact with the world around us and make a change, we are creating art, if we choose to call it so.

But every now and then, with a simple act like washing a fallen branch onto a deserted beach, Mother Nature reminds us she is, in fact, the greatest artist of all.

Spirit of the Samurai by Paul Choy

Tradition still runs strong in Japan.

Despite being at the forefront of technological advancement for decades, all across the neon lit, modern city of Tokyo, people are keeping the old ways alive. They haven't forgotten their heritage.

People like Kazuhisa, who I met early one rainy Tokyo morning, practicing his traditional sword play in the park. I asked him why he still practiced the long outdated skills of the Samurai. "Because I am Japanese" was his simple answer.

The glory days of the Samurai may have long passed into the history books. In the 21st century, there is no place for people walking the streets with killing swords in their hands. And yet their memory lives on through those who keep their traditions alive, ensuring their spirit remains an every day part of the identity of modern Japan.

We are all products of our past. And yet so often we forget where we have come from, ignoring our personal heritage as we race towards the future. After all, how can we know where we are going if we don't know where we have been?

The traditional ways may not always have an obvious place in our modern day lives, but it is worth considering whether the best way to know who we want to be in the future, is by understanding of who we were in the past.

For that, perhaps we could all benefit from searching for our own sprit of the Samurai.

The Spirit of Determination by Paul Choy

Guillaume Thierry is one of the most determined people I have ever met.

The first time I saw him was on television, as I watched him represent Mauritius at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. He was competing in the decathlon, and I can vividly remember cheering him on for the pole vault event.

It was only some time later, after I met him in person, that I found out what a challenge that pole vault event had really been. “That wasn’t my pole,” he explained. “Somehow my pole was sent to a different stadium, so I had to borrow a pole at the last minute.”

As can be imagined, in an event as technical as the pole vault, simply picking up another pole and using it to project yourself five metres above the ground is not the easiest thing to do. But that is the mark of Guillaume’s determination. When faced with a challenge, he just got on with it.

I have found this determination running throughout Mauritius. When faced with a challenge, people will simply get on with it. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they fail – but, regardless of the result, their determination remains as focused as it ever was.

A Magnificent Colosseum by Paul Choy

At the height of their popularity, the gladiatorial contests held at the Colosseum were some of the most spectacular events Rome had ever seen. But they were also spectacularly expensive, and their cost ultimately led to the amphitheatre’s eventual demise.

Today, 2000 years later, the Colosseum is more popular than ever, contributing far more to the economy of Rome than those first gladiators could ever have imagined.

Smile by Paul Choy

Despite being widowed for over 10 years, Biponi wanted me to know she wasn’t lonely. Her son lives close by and she has other children and grand children. In this respect, she says has more than many.

Still, life isn't easy. After a lifetime of working, she still has to work to support herself, growing vegetables in her small garden to sell by the side of the street.

But the thing which struck me most, as I listened to her story, was her amazing smile.

I saw it from all the way down the street. It was a smile of pure defiance, a smile that declared to the world, no matter what, this is a woman who intends to live a full life. It is a smile I will never forget.

Legacy by Paul Choy

After her husband, James Russell, passed away in 1848, this is the church Jane Smith Russell had build in his memory. Standing high over the "Poison Glen" of Dunlewey, in Ireland's County Donegal, the church has long fallen into disrepair.

The roof was removed, for fear of it collapsing. The furniture long distributed to other churches across Ireland. And yet here it still stands, a cold, lonely testament to a family who once stood proud in the community within which it was built.

Skin Deep by Paul Choy

Madison is not someone you are likely to miss in a crowd.

When I met her, she was sitting outside the barber shop where she worked, enjoying the Toronto sunshine. With a huge smile on her face and a shock of blond hair on her head, there was something about her which made her immediately stand out against the suburban backdrop. Of course it is quite possible the tattoos running the entire length of her arms, chest and neck, as much as the smile on her face which helped her to stand out.

"I've always been judged by my tattoos", she told me, "I have never been in trouble in my life, but people still ask if I have been to prison. The truth is I just like tattoos."

We are all guilty of subconsciously judging the people we meet, often based on nothing more than the colour of their skin or the clothes that they wear. Sometimes those judgements have little impact on our interaction with others, and other times they have terrible consequences. And yet, we also all know these differences between us are literally only skin deep. How ridiculous it is, in the 21st Century, that we are still all so guilty of making these judgements.

Madison was one of the most interesting and friendly people I met, as I walked around the streets of Canada. Polite, talkative and happy for me to photograph her portrait, despite only meeting me moments before. And yet many of the people she meets still make snap decisions about her based on nothing more than the art she wears on her skin.

As the old saying goes, you can't judge a book by its cover, a lesson we could all do with remembering more often, in our increasingly divided world.

Supertrees by Paul Choy

There is not a lot we can teach Mother Nature about design. When it comes to form, beauty, and function, she has pretty much got her act together.

So when landscapers were deciding what to do with 250 acres of reclaimed land, right in the heart of Central Singapore, what better place to turn for inspiration, than Mother Nature herself.

The Supertree Grove, located in the Garden by the Bay national park, are an incredible sight. A collection of vast artificial trees, standing up to 50 meters tall, they dominate the Singapore skyline, forming an imposing canopy over the city below.

Acting as a vertical garden for a huge array of plants and ferns, the Supertrees collect rainwater for irrigation, whilst huge solar panels generate energy to power the lights which bring the trees alive, illuminating them against the urban backdrop.

Truly, the Supertrees are a spectacular sight. But, as we move further into the 21st Century, where concrete is replacing grass at an exponential rate, and tree-like structures now replace actual trees, I can’t help but wonder, what harm are we doing to Mother Nature’s grand design?

The long day is over by Paul Choy

A fisherman rests by the waters edge, near the village of Isafordur in Iceland.

His two-thumbed woven gloves designed to be turned around as they wear out pulling the heavy oars through the turbulent waters. His wooden-framed fishing boat ideally suited to the freezing cold water so close to the Artic.

The tools of his trade virtually unchanged in hundreds of years, his long day over, the sea has provided once more, as it has done for generations.