Friday, October 31, 2008

Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art

Eat your heart out, Jeff Koons.  The Red Guard makes the cross (gymnastic rings?) in that tight mylar sheen. The hat got a bit washed out, but the red star is present live, as is all the might.

This piece welcomes visitors to the Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art, exhibiting works which jauntily captures a modern spirit, and works elements of Chinese society in a readily thought-provoking display. I don't claim to be an art expert, but I enjoy experiencing art as a launch pad to thought and form, possible communication, litmus of freedom, of expression in a society.

The last exhibit I was wowed and invigorated by was the 'explosion' artist Cai Guo Qiang's retrospective at the NY Guggenheim this past spring. His choice of explosives to make work, resonates with the actual ancient Chinese invention, and also the modern means of power. On the micro level, he would explode fireworks with deliberate shapes upon paper, the ignition and 'creation' dutifully recorded, the burn and residue remaining to form the image. This followed Mao's dictum of 'destroying in order to create.' On a macro level, Cai would rig huge designed firework spectacles, usually exploded on landscapes, to show the beauty, the complement of such detonation, where usually we only see it in the context of war or terrorism.  The series known as 'Project for Extraterrestrials' can probably be seen from space, as the Great Wall can be, and positions the work beyond earthling viewership, which to me is huge coming from a Chinese mind.  Yes, he was the one who created the Olympic Opening Ceremonies fireworks, but I'm not clear as to whether he ordered them to be CGI enhanced.
I think one of the coolest things about Chinese characters and advertising is the ability to form architecture with the graphic designs.
The exhibit is centered around one of my favorite philosophers, the daoist Zhuang Zi, and his ultimate notion of illusion:  'Do I dream the butterfly or does the butterfly dream me?'  The story goes that Zhuangzi dreamt that he was a butterfly, flitting about as he pleased, unaware that he was Zhuangzi.  Upon waking, he wasn't sure now if he was ZZ, dreaming about the butterfly, or if he was now ZZ as dreamed by the butterfly. Between ZZ and the butterfly, there must be a distinction: this is what is known as the Transformation of Things.
Zhaungzi's ideas were in full bloom during the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420AD) at a time that resembles the present where curator Pan Qing notes that 'religious philosophies (brand lifestyles) vied for followers (consumers) offering refuge from feudal chaos of the time with a range of promises (products, ads) to make life more meaningful.'

Diana Freundz, another one of the curators, states that 'the exhibition illustrates a case studey in the survival of the pace and potential of the modern day People's Republic.'

The uncertainty of existence is timeless, as we can experience defining moments of reality through our senses, but it can be just as fleeting or as meaningless as the moments of a dream. (and so, photos!)

Is this the China that the artists are dreaming, or are these the artists that China dreams?
I didn't know what to expect, having been disappointed by an exhibit Duolun Museum of Modern Art in Hongkou, which was as deep in form as an ipod commercial, and as slick with irony as a mediocre hipster.  I took photos there, not because I wanted to capture the image, but because I could (and I obviously had no respect for the preservation of the work.)  

Here at Shanghai MOCA, photos were also allowed to be taken, which is still a bizarre concept for me, coming from the western world, where I get berated by museum guards for even talking on a cell phone. I was skittish about flashing here, this time because I did have great respect for the work and the building; but with such a crowd that snaps away, I again, could not resist. I had to rationalize in my mind--I'm giving these artists exposure. And this kind of museum for the people does not have the habit of spending on postcards and catalogues; exclusivity has not a high price at this point. Or is this another rights issue? I would not exploit my chance and try to document everything, just the works that I responded to.
This is called 'Grenade', a work by Jeff Da Yu SHI  (family name capitalized). This one I came back to three times. I just wanted to hang out with it for a long time. It was pretty, much prettier live.  A perfume bottle. With a female leg as it's handle. The grenade pin atop is ready to be pulled by the floating, singular baby. Shiny. Consumption. Danger. Child spoilage. Whim.
A video installation by YE Funa, had a series of 1950's magazine covers, recreated as still life video. A woman in ethnic costume (maybe Xinjiang) sits; it looks uncannily like the cover, until she blink blink blinks.  A Korean woman stands in here traditional costume in the countryside, as two farmers work the fields; it is peaceful, not of this century, when a tour de france type cyclist zooms by. Mao is portrayed with 2 ministers; he fusses and fusses and tries to hold his arm just right. 

XU Bing, a prominent artist in the international scene told a pictographic story with modern icons, along with English and Chinese crawled beneath. XU Bing incorporates Chinese characters prominently in his work. This work is called 'Book from the Ground.' It tells the story of a black man and a grey man on an airplane, communicating by signs in light of turbulence.
Here is the ending:
An interactive component allows you to make comments, ask questions, to which the computer will fashion a response.  
Might the west start thinking more linguistically like the east, where the use of pictures to denote ideas, instead of an alphabet? Nah, English is still the cash language here.
Couldn't find the artist tag for this series of bounded bonsai trees. So incredibly violent, particularly the rusted bolts. It's jarring. I went back twice.
And yes, babies babies everywhere. Everyone love babies. Babies rule. Babies are emperors. And boy are the babies of China happy. They are the receptors of everyone's joy, 6 times over. Even though this sculpture was pretty much in darkness, folks could not stop photographing it. 
My friend Rafael is an artist who, of late, has a series of mini-sculptures called 'Pool Party': a tiny baby figurine is cast in blue resin, the size of an egg, frolicking, flipping, splashing, to form a little pool party of its own. When it is combined with, say, 200 other little blue egg pool parties, it becomes a massive cellular spectacle, particularly luminescent on a lit table. I think that piece would do well in China.
Hong Kong-based artist Michael Wolf has made a 3-walled enclave called 'The Real Toy Story'--the density of the toys on the wall definitely invoked the mass feeling in the city, and then the photographs show the grim-faced workers at their toy factory jobs.
This is a familiar site in many Chinese stores and restaurants: lots of worker napping happening. Workers are featured in another video installation by ZHANG Minjie is called 'Say Simple Words to Hold Your Life.' The first time passing it, a woman stands in front of a storefront saying with bored enthusiasm: 'Ni hao huan ying guang ling!' 'Ni hao huan ying guang ling!' ('How are you welcome welcome.') 'Ni hao huan ying guang ling!'  The second time passing, it was a man, hollering: 'Mai jin wan bao!' 'Mai jin wan bao!' ('Buy tonight's newspaper.') 'Mai jin wan bao!' 'Mai jin wan bao!' 'Mai jin wan bao!' 'Mai jin wan bao!' 
A painting that could absolutely not be captured was a water ink painting called 'Fine Strokes' by the artist XU Yuren. It was a series of very light soft strokes, vertical, no more that an inch, so subtle on the canvas. Blending but distinct, it would make more of its impression as you stood still with it. Even the incidental noise of the museum seemed to interfere with it. Which asked for more stillness, more time.
I'm amazed at the lit cigarette control of making calligraphy...might this be a planar palimpsest?  WANG Tiande is the artist of this untitled work. I know the words have content and meaning, but looking solely at the form, this renders layers of text atop each other, simultaneously received, and then also the negative space in which text is relayed gives my language head a grand whirl. I'm not a usual fan of text in artwork, but this work makes me gladly contradict myself.
YANG Na, 'Dreaming of Mermaid.'
A view from the ramp leading up to the second floor.
Photo of a real girl--a dynastic weight upon her head...all the past's future lies on the one child.
Dionisio Cimarelli, 'Child No. 7, 3, 2, 6.' (Chinese porcelain).
ZHOU Tiehai, 'Bamboo.'
GAO Lu -- 'Scene #4'  ...a large photograph with Goddess of Mercy Guanyin like Lara Croft.
I looked and looked and looked and couldn't understand why these gloves were displayed. Material:  wood.
Am I dreaming that the hinges are butterflies?

This stairwell leads to the third floor called Art Lab.  It is social space with a 60's feel...there's also a deck where you can be served coffee and booze. 
On the wall by the pink, there is the Art Lab statement: 
'Though art originated in the replication of nature, it now attempts to control and understand nature through the application of various media. While artists attempt to create a space in an urban environment, they simultaneously resist becoming nature, aiming rather to create a nature that is controlled or artificial, thus succumbing to our present day lives and expectations in the 21st century.
'...embracing contemporary art that is creating new or 'artificial' environments. Artificial nature stimulates all the senses, not just the visual.'   Hmmmm.  A hollow knock.

Is it something new, or the renaissance of an already established culture?
Can one be awake and awakening at the same time?

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What's in a Name?

I have 8 classes of Nursing English.  Of 200 students I have 6 male students...though a few female students have no qualms of taking male names.  Most were chosen by themselves, others have kept the name assigned to them by their high-school English teachers. As my Chinese is limited, I rely on these identities to know and call my students.  And also getting them accustomed to their new English-speaking personalities.

Fiona, Angel, Lishine (self invented), Kitty, Eleven, Reta, Hellon (to distinguish from the other Helen), Sophie, Yoni, Winter, Summer (sits next to Winter), Even, Cherry, S  (Just S, with a shade of gold to go with it), Yiko, Joyce, Coco, Remember, Winnie, Sky, Moon, Helen, Ben (m), Michelle, Vivian
Maggie, Yuki (I like Japanese things), Haze (not sure if she knows Cloudy), Nancy, CiCi, Mayday (inventive writer), Ray (I know),  Luby,  Crystal,  Cherry,  Grace,  Even,  Miki,  Tracy,  Flora,  Milly, Stephy, Candy, Alma, Cherry G., Sherry, Sandy, Andy (m), Cyndi, Angelina
Lena, Mandy, Jodie (low-profile standout), Edith, Cariol (anti-materialistic), Swallow, Summer, Mike (m, who in English Corner change his name to Stephane, but then never came back again), Jane, Jacky, Daisy, Cheryl, Cheery (Yes, I know), Cathy, Oliver (I like oliver Twist), DanNi, Tina, Tracy, Tammy, Over, Zoeta, Happy, Dycedra, Jocelyn (formerly Beata), Doris
Lina, Rebecca, lily, Nancy, Minnie, Emily, Rainbow, Forina, Shine, Sande, Angel, Tina, Kasy, Kasa, Prince, Lisy, Dream, Amy, Lucy, Suki, Emy (who wants to be called Cookie, and I just noticed in the books, so Cookie it will be from now on), Yuki, Mike (m), Sophie, Lina
Lucy, Kenny, Crystal, Ealine (who used to be called Chris, and was OK with the androgyny the first day, but then changed, possibly wanting Eileen, but here it is--she tells me she's happy everyday), Selena, Jenny, tracy, Page, Penny, Cloris, Jenifer, Jenny (who has the same facial architecture as my 4th uncle), Sara, Sinky, Anne, Shelly, Lily, Jane, Annie, Vicky, Adela, Yoki, Cloudy, Anna
This class always changes seats so it's hard for me to remember their names, though a distinct or bold choice of name is easy to recall.
Yodi, Sanny, Amy, Rain (always sits next to Sunny no matter what), Sunny, Toni, Kame, Cacao (yes I know it means chocolate), Eva, Lynn, Jenny, L (just L), Jan, Sky (used to sit next to Rain and Sunny), Satan (my friend gave it to me, yes I know, I keep it, though she uses an 'e' at the end of late (to feminize?) and is still pronounced the same), Vera, Yuki, Gisli (don't know nothing of J-lo), Cinderella, Ivon, Anna, Fantesy (m, sleeps lots), Fiylr (I made it), Jane
Stella, Yuki, Yvonne, Kiki, Sura, Sunddy (yes), Trista, July, Cathy, Ling, Julia, Strawberry (at Best Buy where I used to work, they called me Candy), Yellow, Cat, Tiffany, Camily, Vancy, Qute (o that's cute), Ivy, Millie, Yoyo, Tina, Wolf (m, changed from Jack), Vivian, Rebecca
Stephanie, Irene, Chris, Rechill (pronouced Rachel), May, Candy, Kiki, Angel, Sue, Kydin I made it), Joanna, Dora, Susan, Micky, Pinky, King (I know), Yoyo, Emily, Kelly, November (my birthday), Maple (it is sweet), Hellen, Jay (m, ultimate Shanghai Mullet, floppy, defying gravity), Sky

Even Winner, who works with me at the Lida Global Initiative, and was one of the first I met in Shanghai at the airport, asked me to give her a new name, a more formal name, that she could apply to programs with, that could be taken seriously.  I first suggested Faye, because it corresponded with her Chinese given name, but coupled with her family name, it sounded, in Chinese, like 'fat cow.'  So still wanting the 'f' sound and the 'n' sound, I thought of Ivana, which goes nicely with her last name.  What does it mean? she wonders.  It is the feminine form of Ivan, which was the name of many Kings in Russia and is popular in Eastern Europe. She is very gracious and formal at times, and she is hard working with self-determination.  Coming from the rural area of Shanxi and with a rounder personality due to the fact that she has siblings (more common outside of the city) she has global aspirations, wanting to succeed beyond the usual nurse's means. 

She is happy with her new name.  Others still call her Winner, cuz they are used to it.  I call her Ivana. It fits.

p.s.  'Obama' transliterated into Farsi means 'He is with us.'

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Happy Birthday, Juju!

My darling nephew Juju is 3 year old today.  Yay!  Here is the invite to his party in the park, where there is gonna be a 'train' to ride all around. All aboard!

We call him so many names: Juju is the main nickname, Juji, Huhu (Spanish pronunciation), Yuyu, Jujucito, Jujimeyer, Jujer, the Juj, and then all of the Chinese ones like 'little cutie,' 'little precious,' 'little heart liver.' (vital), 'Luo big head', 'little purse,' and further Spanish ones like 'lindo,' Jujulindo,' and 'precioso.' Whenever we'd ask, 'Who's Juji?' he'd raise his hand...'Who's Jujimeyer?' he'd raise his hand...'Who's little precious?' 'Who's little heart liver?' 'Who's Jujulindo?' he'd keep his hand up for the duration.  He caught onto the drills quickly and with humor.

Juju shares a birthday with Mahalia Jackson, Hilary Clinton, the Shah of Iran, actor Bob Hoskins, and Obama's grandmother, Madelyn Dunham.

The Juj has a great life.  Super-cool parents who are fun and kind and speak many languages to him.  Lots of good food to go with his hearty appetite and polite manners (once when he was 2, he asked, 'can I please have some broccoli?').  He's got many interesting books and a good memory to be able to finish sentences as the first parts are read to him.  He's curious and asks lots of questions.  He's funny and fun. And the best part--he's psyched to be alive.

As y'all who are around kids know, it's amazing how slow the days go, but then how quickly time goes by also.  You miss a couple of days and you miss little personality revealings and gosh, growth.  And so it's super tough being away from the Juj for so long. Please indulge a homesick auntie on the occasion of her nephew's 3rd birthday, with a li'l walk down Jujimeyer Lane. 

Here's the Juj at 5 months old.  His ma, my sister Su, calls it 'Juju loves flowers.'  
One day, when he was 8 months old, we were rolling around on the big bed.  I held him in my arms and we would do 'pilates' by rolling backwards and then back up.  It was a blast.  Su caught us on the upswing here:
This past summer, Juju and I were very big on dancing to the Balkan Beat Box.  It's super fun, high energy music that inspires ecstatic dancing.  Our favorite is the 'Chicken Cha Cha', the first cut on the first album which starts with crowing and a woman coolly exclaiming 'Dance.'  It's non-stop from there.  We can go about 50 minutes straight--perfect cardio I'd say. Freedom, creativity, spontaneity, movement at its best. One major dance jam was with Su and my pal Sujata--we used up every breath of air in the room. 'Like this' Juju'd say, putting his hands on the floor and kicking up his feet. 'And then like this' rolling across the sofa. We'd follow him, dancing around like a funky, rambunctious train.

Like a typical boy, he loves anything with wheels and machinery. Trains. Trucks. Transporters. Diggers. Excavators. Bulldozers. Lots and lots of firetrucks. The first obsession:  garbage trucks. Fascinating. The beep-beep-beeping as it'd back up. The mechanical arms that would lift the dumpsters up and unload stuffs into the back. Amazing. Here he is, just after turning 1, riding around on his first wheels:
One of the cool things about Juju is that he can have fun anywhere. Even if there are no toys, anything can be a toy.  Once when he was taking a bath in my sparse Echo Park apartment, I gave him a couple of cups and a plastic container and a whole scene of making coffee emerged. Kids are great that way.  The imagination is flexible and strong (and allowed)--in life, kids are the first natural avant-gardists. 

Here we are on a kung-fu break when he was 2.
My cousin Johnny found a cereal bar on Westwood Blvd. in Los Angeles (just below Wilshire) named, yup:  Juju.  We had to take a gander.  It's opened 7am to 7pm, cuz cereal ain't just for breakfast anymore (right bachelors and married boys?) There are over 70 kinds of every cereal, from sugar coated to super-roughaged, and the milk comes in a carafe.  Juju has always been very comfortable wearing hats, and this is one of his faves, being a train enthusiast and all.
Juju's dear nanny Rosa gave him an electric 'guitar' for his second X-mas. Definite jamming possibilities. Juju's dad, Patrick, is a cinematographer and a drummer, who has been diligently figuring out songs on the guitar with help from the internet. He has a wide assortment of music, of all genres, a panoply of moods and rhythms. The Juj was into the Beatles and Bob Marley early on.  His mom has always sung lots of songs to him and can adapt anything (like Elmo's World) on the piano. The trio have been known to play as a band in inspired moments.
We are all tennis enthusiasts and would one day like to sit in the family box of the French Open or Wimbledon.
The park where we all usually play tennis is where Juju had his birthday party.  I'm so sad to have missed it, celebrating the festivities and having a go around in the tractor, I mean train. He goes to the pre-school at this same park, so now, on top of all of his usual playmates,  he has lots of new friends to ride in the train with.  Woo woo! I definitely plan to definitely make next year's party.  Definitely.
Happy Birthday, Juju!

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Commissary #2, Upstairs Edition

This may be what the entrance to heaven looks like.

It's the second floor to Commissary #2, the eating facility where I get 250 yuan credit to eat to my heart's content.  The first coupla weeks here at Lida, I was glad to eat the traditional meals, lots of tofu permutations, baby bok choy, seaweed, fish and peppers, rice.  Then one day, facing the doors and taking a pause mid-bite, I noticed stairs to a second floor.  Is there more food, I wondered.

Ascending the stairs, I could hear what sounded like a huge vacuum.  It echoed through the big hall for one minute bursts and would then halt.  I come upon a similar configuration as downstairs, but sparse.  The same four-seater tables, but then off to the right, partitioned behind frosted glass, a private dining area, even a couple of large round tables. There are covered with green table cloths.

I approach the window and find the huge vacuum sound to be the healthy fire, gas-stoked under a huge wok. Noodles are being toss-fried and then steamingly scooped onto plates on order, and then the wok is rinsed, the fire stoked again, this time to fry rice with eggs, the velocity with which the elements are stirred insures a mouth-wateringly delicious pile of lunch.
It is to the right of the wok that my eyes land--a cook who is pulling a mound of dough as wide as his own arm span.  He pulls and pulls and then works it like a jump rope, spinning it a coupla times before he twists it all back together and then gives it another pull.  He does three rounds of this ; by the third time, the dough is naturally stranding--delineating into noodles.  He then plops it into a huge pot of boiling water.

For 4 yuan, you get an ethereal bowl of these pulled noodles, or la mian (la meaning pull and mian meaning noodle--it can disguise itself in a romance language).  With it, either sliced beef or braised beef, or sauced potato, or minced snow vegetable, or a fried egg or tofu and a nice spicy broth.  

The upstairs of commissary #2 is indeed more specialties--a bit pricier than the downstairs where the ladies are putting scoops of food on steel trays.  Here you can also get oval orange plates of shanghai delights like braised pork shank with stewed vegetables, greens with 'wood ear' mushroom, fish fragrant eggplant, green beans with minced pork, sliced pork ear, five-frangrant dried tofu and celery and a whole bunch of other local dishes I'm not sure of.

There's even a section with individual pots of rice noodles, cooked on the spot to order:
I haven't tried this yet, because I cannot get past the la mian.  The first time I tried it, I was in heaven.  The fresh noodle with the spicy broth had a tenderness unlike those cooked with dry noodle.  It seemed like it was gone in three bites.  Or let me be candid, three slurps. That along with some greens and a scoop of the chili paste.  O me goodness.  I now have a date with the la mian counter every Friday lunch, after my grueling 'outward bound' schedule of 9 class periods on Thursday (it's actually only 6 and a half hours of teaching).  It's what gets me through.
And I have to get to the counter by 11AM, before the students break for lunch, because then it becomes a madhouse and a mad wait.  Once, before I knew to come before the rush, it got tense at the la mian counter.  The troops were hungry, and the cook was not pulling fast enough. Well he was pulling fast enough, but the fellow who scoops it from the water and then adds broth and the meat was moving extra slow.  It didn't help that the hungry students were starting to bark at him--'Get me my braised beef noodle now!  Hurry up!'  The louder the demand, the slower he would move.  'C'mon give me more beef than that! '  An Elivra-hairdo'd girl asks 'Where are my four bowls?  My friends and I have been waiting the longest!'  It was tense and uncomfortable.  The serving fellow even walked away for a while.  I know these kids get what they want when they want, they're the only child at home.  But the entitlement and the shitty treatment of the workers, who are about their same age but from less fortunate backgrounds, is a real appetite killer.

Alas, they are at his mercy.  They get their la mian when he comes back around.  And they are humbled with waiting.  Once they clear, I get my bowl. My appetite immediately returns.
I need lots of tissues to wipe me sweat, cuz I like it hot!


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Meanings and Metaphors

It's hard to believe that one of my classes has already finished.  A Speaking and Listening class. With very good English speakers.  They are a class of nurses from all over China, more mature, outspoken, and motivated to improve English.  They are a part of the Lida Global Initiative, which serves students who are interested in international opportunities.

I had the class of 13 for 6 short weeks. It really did fly by because it was more of a 90-minute salon of conversation where I'd learn about their lives, help with pronunciation, clean up little preposition danglings and give safe space to speak in public.  My American skill, as absorbed from a verbose culture, came in handy for this class and proved entertaining for all.  It was all very organic, a kind of free association of speech, where new vocabulary and colloquial phrases would be generated and written on the board, kind of like how rap is free-styled first and then written down, instead of looking at words first and then reading them as dictated.

We studied from a book called Meanings and Metaphors, to springboard towards more advanced modes of expression.  It makes sense that when you learn a language, the brass tacks of grammar and the acquisition of vocabulary all stem from a more literal space.  As language progresses, the more comparative and poetic realms signal sophistication and a more playful and possibly profound way to communicate.  A very cool aspect of this endeavor is the feel one gets from a culture by how it expresses itself figuratively.

We spent the first couple of weeks figuring metaphors from similes from the Brit text:
My nephew is a real monkey!
The old woman had hair as white as snow.
He told her jokingly that she was the sunshine of his life!
The book sold like hot cakes.
This old house is a historic gem.
Just because you have an established career path...doesn't mean you have to stick with it.
Traditionally, the diet of language offered to our students has been grammar with a separate helping of vocabulary mixed into give the required flavour.
Madeira is a magnet to lovers of a warm climate.
I mean I just felt like a fish out of water at his party.
All written work should include an introduction, where you set the context and outline of the 'map' of what is to follow.  This map should include what you are going to cover, why you have decided on this particular approach, and how your argument will develop.

And the students--Shirley, Betty, Alice, Sandy, Fran, Christine, Lillian, Angela, Sophie, Chris, Kelly, Cindy, Lily--would bring in translations of Chinese metaphors, or the ones they had either come across in their English readings or made up:

A book is like a garden carried in the pocket.
With money you are a dragon, with none, a worm.
Better late than never.
The weather in June is like a child's face: it changes quickly.
The students are like the flowers (hello Mao!).
Silence is golden.
Let me fly like a bird.
A nest is to a bird what a house is to a man.
The baby crawls on the ground just like a snail.
My dad was boiling mad.
The inside of the car was a refrigerator.
His idea was hard to swallow.
Calling a deer a horse (making a mistake).
A naive calf is not afraid of a tiger.  

We also explored the parts of the body, both literal placements and figurative assignments:

head of the company, good head for business
a sharp eye for color, a keen eye for talent
an ear for music, an ear for dialect
mouth of a river, a loudmouth
heart of the city, don't break my heart
nose of the airplane, good nose for a story
lend me a hand, let's give him a big hand
foot of the stairs, foot in the mouth 

And finally, time and money.  This was a big topic for the final test, which was to speak for 3 minutes and then to answer questions from the class for 2 minutes.  Sophie talked about how once time is gone, it can never come back, and asked if time were more precious than money. She said it was because money cannot buy time or true friendship or lasting love or physical health.  Shirley had to disagree, because it is a commercial world now.  Money may not be useful for those who wish for a simple life, but money can improve the quality of life.  It can also provide opportunities to travel, as well as allow one to buy more clothes for beauty, and more books for enlightenment.  Angela had to agree that money is everything, that it is the most important for basic life and also a comfortable life.  But time is even more important.  For example, there was a Company A and a Company B.  Both were vying for a large contract from a foreign company.  Company A was late for its meeting and so Company B got the contract. Time costs money.  Time is life.  Just after the Sichuan earthquake, there was only a short time to save the people who were trapped under the rubble.  There is no money that could buy more time after the disaster.

It's true that metaphors can help us understand an idea more clearly, or be more persuasive, or colorful, or emotional, or memorable.  After 8 years of remedial English as spoken by the literal, frat boy mentality of the current U.S. president, no wonder the front runner candidate is able to win over a mass of the citizenry with his use of figurative language:

A good compromise, a good piece of legislation, is like a good sentence, or a good piece of music.  Everybody can recognize it.  They say:  Huh.  It works.  It makes sense.

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time.  We are the ones we've been seeking for.  We are the change that we seek.

I cannot swallow whole the view of Lincoln as the Great Emancipator.

We're not going to babysit a civil war.

Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition.  It asks so little of yourself.  Because it's only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize true potential.

If you're walking down the right path and you're willing to keep walking, eventually you'll make progress.

Words do inspire.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

I Left My (Obama) Pin in Tian Tai City

...there on a chair, it called to me...  

But I didn't see it, after if fell off the pocket of my jacket, cuz I was too busy watching the fun and games, the kareoke singing, the balloon popping, the word riddles, the hug it out game, the social of socialism played out in the after dinner festivities of our school trip to the Jiangshu province.  My friend Leslie had given me the Obama pin before I left Los Angeles, a little pin, simple, with his face, and I have worn it proudly through my China travels.  

Alas, I didn't keep track.  

We left Lida at 1pm on a Friday...teachers and staff could sign up for this trip, organized and heavily subsidized by the school.  I went with 6 others from our unit, the Lida Global Initiative. There were a total of 3 buses, 180 in all.  It took us 4 hours to get to Tiantai--a white-knuckled ride with lots of honking, you know, Chinese-bus style.  The highlight was the crossing of the Hangzhou Bay Bridge, which is the longest bridge in China, clocking in at 36km.  Its interior travelside is painted 7 different colors, each color stretching for 5 km.  It saves about 60 km of travel.

Of course the first thing we do when we arrive is go to a big banquet hall that specializes in feeding tour packages.
Second from the left is Sarah and then Michelle, who all work in the office, and Mr. Liu.
Here is Luna and also Deb, one of the other English teachers, a bright mate from down under. As soon as we diners were finished, the round tables were struck, the floors were quickly mopped and the space was turned into our performance area.
Here are Sally and Sarah, sitting exactly where the Obama pin was last seen.  The festivities were opened with a declaration that everyone have fun.  A microphone was involved, and fervent speaking occurred, but there was not the same shouting into the mic that I had experienced at a Shanghai wedding the week before, where somehow the louder it is, the more meaningful and sincere it is.

There were two MC's and also two carts of snacks that went around, with watermelon seeds (like the way we eat sunflower seeds) and little packets of preserved innards, sweet seedless tangerines, and also hard and dried fruit candies.  It's great to see a whole work organization enjoying each others performances; there's no ego or self-consciousness involved--everyone participates as entertainment and there is the constant refrain of 'have fun.'  It was amusing but long.  We were ready to leave and there was still a good half hour of 'we need 18 people to make 6 sets of pine trees that have 6 squirrels living in each.'  The amazing thing--there was not alcohol involved, but damn, I still lost my Obama pin.

The next day we traveled another 2 hours to Xian Ju or 'Gods' Residence' where mountain peaks resemble shapes that the tourists are to identify.  For instance, here is Profile of Soldier Hero:
Though with his puckered lips, you'd think they'd name it Profile of a Soldier Lover...
Muah!  Can you guess what this next one is?
The tip of a brush pen, called The Mighty Brush Pen.  There was also one called 'Screw Peak' next to 'Shy Girl' which our super young and inexperienced tour guide did not even point out the first time we passed.  We noticed on the way back what looked to be a peak in the shape of a button mushroom with a longish stem.  We asked her if that was 'Screw Peak' or 'Shy Girl' and it turned out it was both, and the interpretation would be left to the viewer.
Aha--signs of environmental consciousness.  A sign.

At dinner the night before, there was talk of the waterfall that we would see.  Turns out the rain has been low this year and the waterfall has dried out except for a spritz at the top.
When walking through this landscape, which was lovely but not necessarily grand, I overheard someone say 'This scenery is not very impressive.  There really is nothing to look at.'  With crowds and crowds of people, as is anywhere in China, it is hard to take in nature.  The Chinese want to be awed by beauty, and many a times it can fall flat, especially when their numbers are more awesome than the greenery.

Even Michelle and Luna are complaining that our the tour package has shown us basically three hours of touring and the a day spent on the bus.  They are such lively girls who translate a funny Chinese poem to me (it rhymes in Chinese):  On the bus we sleep, off the bus we photo, when we get home, don't know where we've been.

On our way out, I purchase a small Buddha amulet--it's gold string had caught my eye. I didn't think of it at the time but it is a new small object to wear instead of a pin.

We took another two hours back to Tian Tai City to catch the last hour of a 1400 year old Buddhist Temple, built during the Sui Dynasty.  The last time it was renovated was in 1279, and the policy now is to not make any renovations or preservations for that would go against the naturalness of the Buddhist doctrine.
Many people have chances to buy incense and pray to the various temples housing the different Buddhas. A particularly fertile and plump Guanyin, Goddess of Mercy, who endows asking parents for sons had a particularly hearty worshipping.  There was one woman who was there to thank Guanyin for her present gift.  There are monks all around and lots of workers upkeeping the grounds.
I'm particularly drawn to the dragons at the corners of all the eaves, there to protect.
And on the tops of the roofs are the buddhist horizons.  It looks similar to the campaign O of Obama.
Here is a 1500 year old plum tree that has never been treated.  It thrives on the good spirits of the monks and chanting.  There was one bout of termites during the Cultural Revolution, but otherwise, it has survived amazingly.  So we are told.
IIt is interesting to see everything in a kind of natural decay...these are ancient structures after all.  But it balances all the shine that so symbolizes modernity.  I would not want to see a new coat of paint on these buildings, but there is a somewhat feeling of neglect.  Here it is the spirit that rules, yes, but we know that this culture privileges the material at this moment.
We return to the banquet hall for another dinner and I have a chance to ask about the Obama pin.  It turns out that the manager did see it on the seat as he pointed to the vicinity we were sitting.  He thought that it was part of the fun and games and so he tossed it.  He apologized profusely.  

The final day we drove to Tian Tai Mountain.  On our way, we picked up our local tour guide at a designated spot.   She was a live one, telling us accompanying poems about Tian Tai mountain, a place that Emperors liked to come visit because of its beauty and tranquility. We were to be driven to the top of the mountain, where we would then walk down and be met at the bottom by our bus. She asked us to not take too much stuff and to watch our step and not take photos and walk at the same time.

She tells us the 'tai' of Tiantai is usually pronounced with the third tone, the down-up tone, like how Taiwan is pronounced.  But for this place only, the 'tai' of Tiantai is pronounced with the first tone, the neutral tone--same word but a different tone to sound its singularity.
It is an awesome range, much more grand and impressive than the day before.  It's hardly a mountain climb--there are stairways built all the way down.

And smack in the middle:
Local entrepreneurs.

There was a bit of rock climbing in some cases.  Our merry band was always in good spirits and very happy to pose and take pix.  Getting out of the office and into nature opens the heart of all. The phrase for 'happy' in Chinese is 'kai xing'--literally meaning 'open heart.'

And continuing to descend, there is a slow crescendoing sound of water.  Alas, a waterfall promised.  From far up you can hear its faint titter, and it is wonderful to follow the sound as it gets fuller and fuller.  It is certainly clear and natural, the 'big natural' as nature is called in Chinese.
And speaking of full, we were but another tour group landed at the bottom of the mountain.
There's a constant jockeying for position and pose.  I tried to just sit and watch the waterfall, but the excited voices and the constant direction and countdown to smiles gave it a whole other layer of experience.
Yes my cohorts Deb and Michelle happily snapping photos, too.  

And as you look up to the top of the waterfall, just to the right of it, you can see a line of poetry. The Chinese like to make a line out of 4 words.  The first word is 'jing' or 'gold', the last word is 'tian' (like Tiantai) which means 'sky' or 'heaven.'  Together it is the 'golden court' in this 'well's view of the sky,' on this mountainside, an inscription of hope.

Just beyond the tunnel leading out of the waterfall cove, there are snack stands and a man, who has set up shop--
to read your life, your future.  This then opens into a huge vast expanse of the clearest water...
with geese loungingly swimming, the stone guards insuring tranquility...
The air is a relief.  If only there were time to sit on one of the stone benches, all the good nature and good spirit surrounding.  This final bridge brings us to the other side of the lake, where all the buses wait.
One last look from the bridge.

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