Zhu Jiming uses his tools to watch sky. (Photo: Screenshot of video)
A fruit farmer by day, and an astronomer by night. While most of the villagers on Golden Mountain are getting ready for a good night's rest, for Zhu Jiming, the most exciting part of the day is only just beginning.
With a telescope that his son bought him, Zhu was able to see for the first time what lies in the darkness. And what he saw only made him more curious about what's waiting beyond the clouds.
"I was so excited when I saw the moon's craters for the first time. Setting up the telescope to watch the sky became the only thing that was on my mind after I finished other chores. Soon after, I started thinking about taking pictures of what I saw with the telescope," said Zhu.
Determined to learn more about astrophotography, Zhu joined every online astronomy chat group he could find, and anyone who knew anything about the subject became his teacher.
But the process of learning and discovery was not without its challenges.
"I've only had a middle school education and I didn't even finish 7th grade. I don't understand English, and I often forget what I learn the day before," said Zhu.
But this didn't stop Zhu from striving to find out more about his newfound passion, even if it meant learning one unfamiliar English phrase at a time.
"Those who teach Zhu how to use the tools to take pictures speak Chinese, but the tools are in English. So if Zhu didn't understand something, regardless of the language, he'll write it down and force himself to remember it, and in the process, remember the steps he needs to use the tools,” said Tu Sikong, an astronomy enthusiast. “If this meant remembering hundreds of steps to operate a device, then he'd find a way to memorize them all in the correct order. Most people don't have this level of will-power. "
Zhu's love for the skies has even spilled over into his marriage. His loving wife now often joins him on his nightly stake-outs. And she's the first to admit, they're not without a little hint of romance.
Zhu's wife said, "One time he told me he didn't have anything to give me, so he gave me a picture of rosette nebula that he took. I shared it on WeChat and everyone liked it. Not many farmers can take pictures of stars like that."
After eventually learning how to take his own pictures of the moon, Zhu has now moved on to photographing heavenly bodies like Saturn and Jupiter. He says he's also fine-tuning his skills to shoot images of deep-space too, an objective which he says tops every astrophotographer's must-shoot list.
Zhu said, "There isn't much to do in the mountains, so studying astronomy keeps me busy. When I'm sleeping under the stars, they remind me of how much wonder the world is filled with. When I think about all the great photos I can create, it gives me motivation to get through all the chores in the day. My dream is to invite more people to come photograph the stars on Golden Mountain."
As Zhu slowly perfects his skills, there is no telling how far his deep-space exploration might take him in. One thing, though, is certain: He's sure to keep watching the skies.