shu and joe

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July 31, 2006

My parents were in town for the past two weeks, so I got to show them the sights of Beijing. It was pretty gray and wet most of time, so we spent a lot of long afternoons lingering over lunch and ordering second and third cups of coffee. We managed to get out to Hong Kong and Macau for a few days. I’m really glad they were able to make it out here.

A few images from our day in Macau:

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Best friends

I saw the old man approaching and assumed, from experience, that he would be hitting me up for a few kuai. But not tonight. As he drew closer he reached into his back pocket, pulled out his wallet and carefully combed through a cache of folded papers.

“From Germany?” he asked.
“Meiguo,” I replied.
Excitedly, he unfolded the paper, its softened edges and deep creases the product of years of confinement. The paper contained a faded xerox copy of a photograph and a short letter written in English. He asked if I could read it to him in Chinese.

Here is what it said:
“Dear Zhang,” it began. “Thank you for your letters. I am married and have a husband. Let’s be best friends. I hope that someday you will get married and think you will make a nice husband. Best wishes to your mom and dad and brother and aunt. Hope you enjoy the summer and good luck to you. –Adrienne”

I fumbled for a few minutes trying to remember the words for “married” and “husband”, but fortunately a man named David came along and asked what was going on. His English was cerainly better than my Chinese, but the handwriting threw him off, so we formed a chain of translation: what I read aloud in English he would speak to Zhang in Mandarin. The old man received the message in silence, just a few nods of the head. He thanked us both, and returned the letter to its place within his wallet.

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No Cotton Candy

July 16, 2006

When Simon told me that there was a fair going on this weekend out in the Shijingshan District on the far west side of the city, I knew I’d better bring my camera. After a 45 minute ride on the the AC-free subway to Babaoshan we were all a bit hot and hungry. To my dismay, there were no funnelcakes, no hot roasted nuts, no heaping pink wigs of cotton candy awaiting us on arrival. In fact, more food options are available on most back streets of Beijing than were on display at the fair.

A lack of nourishment could not abate my excitement for the spectacle of a fair. A lack of people, however, really changes the tone of a fair. The whole point of a fair is to bring people together, to form a kind of temporary community of revelry and joy. When there are no people, the air is completely different. Still beautiful, in a way, but much more somber – a bit sad and slightly creepy.

Simon and Sherri have this one all to themselves.

It wasn’t quite what I was looking for, but a crispy chicken sandwich at the local KFC finally took care of the hunger issue.

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Chaoyang Liquor Factory

July 9, 2006

On the northern edge of Beijing, between the 4th and 5th ring roads, a cluster of art galleries has sprung up on the grounds of a former liquor factory. It took our cabbie about 10 minutes on the phone with a gallery owner to figure out where the site actually is, but once that was settled, we arrived without incident.

Outdoor sculptures dot the grounds of the barracks-turned-studios within the complex.

The Liquor Factory still has a long way to go before realizing the notoriety of Beijing’s 798 art district, but with the arrival of galleries like Italian-based Arario, the area is definitely a contender. Arario was in the process of installing a new show during out visit, but Shu and I slipped in for a preview.

Several other spaces in the area are putting together exhibits worth checking out. Xindong Cheng Gallery is running a retrospective of the work of Cang Xin, one of the most well-known performance artists in China.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to ge the names of the artists or galleries showing the next two pieces.

As usual, China is a study in contrasts. Immediately upon exiting the gallery district, we were left facing a suburban village, which consisted of a few auto repair shops, restaurants and about 5 golf shops, catering to the country club that has emerged a few kilometers down the street.

The Chaoyang Liquor Factory (Jiuchang) is located on Beihuqu Lu, a short distance from the Jing Cheng Expressway between the North 4th and 5th Ring Roads. When you see the sign that says “MADE IN CHINA” you’re there.

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We spent last weekend in Dalian, a “small” coastal city of 6 million. Dalian is known for its faux-European architecture, shipping industry, seafood and cleanliness. It’s also a popular summer destination for well-healed Chinese, Korean and Japanese vacationers, due to its geographic proximity to all 3 nations. The impetus for the trip was an Ogilvy-sponsored creative seminar, which was manditory for Shu, but arbitary for me. So I did some photographing instead.

The trip almost didn’t get off the ground. When we arrived at Beijing Airport, we were told that Dalian was fogged in, and there was no definite time of departure for our flight. So we scoured the area for some food, but came up with nothing but some dried out baozi and fried rice.

Five hours later, we were able to take off and made it to Dalian in time for dinner. The Ogilvy team had made arrangements for us to dine on Dalian’s famed seafood, served up by classically qi paoed waitresses in a classically neo-baroque banquet hall. Abalone, prawns and black sea cucumber set the tone for the weekend. Regarded by some as the apogee of fine dining, I’ve yet to develop a taste for the rubbery meat of the abalone or the cartilaginous crunch of the sea cucumber.

But with all the glitter of the gliding and crystal, and the free-flowing bai wei, who could really concentrate on the food anyway? Sated by the lazy susan, I teettered down the marble staircase, past the line up of Mercedes parked inside the restaurant (?), and past the half-dozen women standing by the door to bid us a hao wanshang.

There was still time for exploring the city before calling it a night, so we wandered off toward the lights of Zhongshan Square, the city center. The walk was made colorful by the many buildings bathed with oscillating lighting displays.

Even KFC gets the treatment.

At the square, we found many kids playing the local variant of hackysack, and one young calligrapher practicing his strokes in both Chinese and English.

While Shu was busy learning about the ontology of advertising, I headed to the People’s Park to take a closer look at what, from my 22nd floor hotel window, appeared to be an enormous inflatable soccer ball.

The park houses a tired, old amusement park, whose magic appears to have long ago escaped the local residents. Rides and games of chance sit idle while the teens who man their stations fight off sleep.

At the top of the hill, beyond the rides, I arrived at my goal: the big ball. Turns out the ball is actually a Fulleresque art and architecture museum. The underground entrance was drawn closed, so I asked a clique of old women what time it opens. Their responce: never.

Later on we met up at Xinghai Square, touted as the largest public square in China. The square consists of an impressively large concrete monument formed in the shape of an open book, broad walkways and observation points, and a string of carnival rides, games and snack shops. The ocean air, early-evening sun and abundance of local kids enjoying themselves made a walk through the plaza justthe right pre-dinner activity.

This kid in red was so excited by the number of laowai out in the plaza that I had to thank him with a photo.

I have a soft spot for stuffed animals – these guys make me just a touch sad.

Doug narrowly escapes disaster.

Plenty of opportunities for photo posing at Xinghai.

Now here’s a game for you: lace up some rollerskates and see if you can whip the top to keep it spinning without falling on your ass!

Some wealthy fellow built the castle in the background w/ the intention of making it a luxury hotel. He ran out of money and the interior was never completed. Faced with an empty shell, the local government decided that the best thing to do would be to box out an area just inside the main gate and install a shell museum.

The highlight of the shell museum is the carcass of a giant squid. Even Damien Hirst’s shark hasn’t decayed this badly!

And the sun sets into the haze.


On our final day in Dalian we visited the Dalian Aquarium, the largest in China the brochures assured me. The size of the facility appears not to be related to the quantity of marine animals it contains, however. Rather, the majority of the area is filled with photo-op backdrops and animatronic displays.

My personal favorite in the integrated media category was the DaVinci Code-inspired underwater code-breakers display.