SWAN Day Shanghai 2009
Here we are en route, from bus to subway. I was met at 10 am on Saturday in front of our school--Lida Polytechnic Institute--by my new English Clinic students, about 10 of 'em, as well as my best Lida office pal Ivana Niu and also Katrin, an intern from Germany who has been doing research for the Lida Global Initiative. After a 45 minute ride on the Pink Bus, we take the Subway Line 1, for 3 stops to the Caobao station, and take Exit 4 onto Longcao Rd., and we enter towards our site at 218 Longcao Rd.
Once we arrive to the signposts, we start tagging with SWAN stickers so that our location can be better found (um...by the other 5 people who will join us).
Almost there--but all are still wondering what this SWAN thing is all about...
The front gate is swanned...
as well as a poster of Eve Ensler's ubiquitous and important piece, having just played at the Downstream Garage on March 7, the day before International Women's Day. We climb another flight of stairs to the third floor and enter into a dark theater. Soon, Xiao Zhou, the super cool caretaker of the Downstream turns on the lights. I had just visited the day before and found Xiao Zhou at the snooker table with a cig hanging from his mouth. He's got a natural serenity about him and when I asked him when the Downstream Garage closes, he replied with a smile: Never.
Today is a global day: Besides SWAN Day it's also Earth Hour, when cities around the world turn off their lights at 8:30pm for an hour to show awareness of our declining climate situation. But for this afternoon, there is light...stage light.
This is the set for the play that is running this weekend. Here Katrin and Ivana wait...
...as do our guest artist Lucy Zhou's swans, the fancy ones (in their Sunday best), made out of plastic milk cartons...
...and another more modest swan watching as Lucy sets up her other pieces, all made out of recycled materials.
Lucy Zhou immediately invigorates her audience. She was a middle school art teacher and always taught through the great Chinese virtue of thriftiness and 'fei wu li yong,' roughly translated as 'from waste make use.' After she retired in 1991, she refined her craft and kept her creativity sparked, as there are always new products in new containers with new shapes, and thus new ingenious gems to be created.
Here are flowers which she had given me when I last visited her. They are made from wire and nylon stockings...there are lilies, a tulip and a rose. A theme of hers is not only to reuse materials, but also to create beauty from discarded items. Lucy herself speaks with great vigor, with natural humor, so distinct, so affable she is, gregarious, sharp, vital. I always forget that she's 86 years old.
Lucy is a rare treasure, a creative soul who embodies living history. She escaped to Hong Kong when the Japanese overtook Shanghai, and went to middle school there, when she then saw the Japanese drop bombs on Kowloon. She could no longer study in either her home of Shanghai or Hong Kong, and so was determined to go to the interior of China, to Congqing (Chungking for you old colonialists) and finally did study art there. She eventually returned to Shanghai and taught art in middle school.
Lucy used to raise money for poor people by, for instance, making picture frames out of styrofoam trays and selling them for 3 yuan. I asked her why wouldn't people just save their own trays and make their own frames. They hadn't thought of it yet, she replied, and besides, it was to raise money for the needy. Here are some of her works along with some swanaphernalia stickers.
When Lucy heard that not everyone spoke Chinese, she started presenting by pulling out her English. We started having a little Heckle and Jeckle routine because she would start asking me how to translate something from English into Chinese (my Chinese sucks!) and I would tell her to talk in Chinese--we have a whole table of translators--but she would go back into English, which right before our ears became better and better. She was downright fluent by the time she finished. This is the kind of inspiring and heroic performance that we playwrights are always working to render (right Mamet?).
A week before SWAN Day, Lucy had called me and announced that she had done a power point presentation of all her work; then two days after that, she told me she had selected some music to go with her presentation. Turns out my computer couldn't read the music track on her power point so I played Bach's Goldberg Variations as played by Glenn Gould, which she quite liked. You can see the swans on the screen, but she has a whole catalogue of work which she was more than delighted to explain.
Watching Lucy's power point presentation/global commercial for Apple product.
Before completely sitting down, she read to us her own paraphrasing of a George Bernard Shaw quote: "The reason for the old people to exist is: they have a bundle of mistakes as a living example for the next generation."
Collective swanning....SWAN Day Shanghai 2009
After Lucy Zhou's riveting presentation, we joyously snacked and then I conducted a playwriting workshop.
Everyone brought their favorite snacks. Yup, those are cornuts in the chartreuse star, which was recently brought by a visiting friend from the U.S. CRUNCH!
After the Promptor Exercise was administered, all wrote for 30 minutes. We then had a gas reading the scenes: some love miscommunications, a few ponderings, a ride to the countryside, many secrets, all very lively readings. At 5pm we finished, applauding the generosity of the afternoon. I'm encouraging all the participants to post their scenes on the SWAN website.
So thrilled with SWAN Dan I am...
My new student Abigail from Guangzhou, and the ever helpful Ivana...
And Ike, sporting swanware. Ike is cool and embodies what Gail Rubin wrote--that for a truly feminist revolution to take place, the men need to be liberated as well.
We were all headed for a meal at Heji Xiaocai, one of Lucy's favorite restuarants in Xujiahui, but she had to get going. Here, while I'm calling a taxi to accompany her home, all are still ignited by Lucy's presence.
How better to finish off SWAN Day than with an awesome Chinese meal...
Jellyfish, tender beef and mushrooms, pea shoots, chicken and crispy peppers, seafood soup, sauteed baby bok choy, spicy tofu, bamboo tube rice, specialty steamed chicken, chili pepper fish (many of us like it hot!) and the Shanghai dessert called 'wine nanny.' And many ice cold Harbin beers.
The place was crowded, to the point where we ordered the 15 dishes first, so that soon after we sat, our food came. Thing about China and food, it can handle masses of people pretty efficiently. Thing about SWAN Day Shanghai, it was modest in number but felt inspiringly massive.